In the first part of this series, I presented evidence that of the leading causes of death among young people—unintentional injuries, suicide, and homicide—substance abuse is often a factor, and that alcohol is chief among those substances. Substance abuse (including alcohol abuse) is the number one destroyer of the lives of young people.
Let’s look at some of the facts. These are taken from the Centers for Disease Control and other official sources.
Underage drinking is responsible for more than 4,300 deaths among youth each year. In 2013, there were about 120,000 emergency rooms visits by persons aged 12 to 21 for injuries and other conditions linked to alcohol.
Here are some of the other consequences of underage drinking. Youth who drink alcohol are more likely to experience—
- school problems, such as higher absence and poor or failing grades.
- social problems, such as fighting and lack of participation in youth activities.
- legal problems, such as arrest for driving or physically hurting someone while drunk.
- unwanted, unplanned, coerced, and unprotected sexual activity.
- disruption of normal growth and sexual development.
- higher risk for suicide and homicide.
- alcohol-related car crashes and other unintentional injuries, such as burns, falls, and drowning.
- abuse of other drugs. (Alcohol may be the true “gateway” drug.)
- changes in brain development that may have life-long effects.
- death by alcohol poisoning.
Some of us disapprove of drinking during the high school years and then just accept that college students are inevitably going to drink, even though drinking is still illegal for the majority of college students. The pervasiveness of college-age drinking comes at a terrible price.
- Nearly 2000 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor-vehicle crashes.
- 700,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.
- 100,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 report experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.
- Roughly 20 percent of college students meet the criteria for alcohol use disorders.
- About 1 in 4 college students report academic consequences from drinking, including missing class, falling behind in class, doing poorly on exams or papers, and getting lower grades overall.
- For those under 21 who drink, more than 90% of the alcohol is consumed during episodes of binge drinking. On average, underage drinkers consume more drinks per drinking occasion than adult drinkers.
This last one—binge drinking—is a critical point. When teenagers are drinkers, they are almost always binge drinkers. Binge drinking, defined as 5 drinks in a single drinking session, always leads to intoxication, which often leads to terrible things happening.
In the next part in this series, I am going to address some of the common myths about underage drinking. Let me tease that a bit with this one.
Myth: Since I know my kid is going to drink in college, I want them to learn to drink—to practice drinking—under my supervision. That will get them prepared for college drinking.
Facts: (a) It is NOT inevitable that all college students will drink. Many do not. (b) The best data we have indicates that letting teenagers drink alcohol under parental supervision may lead to higher drinking rates, and more alcohol-related problems than a ‘zero tolerance’ approach. (Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, May 2011). Bottom line: There is NO evidence that being allowed to drink in high school reduces problem drinking in college. The reverse seems to be true.
Teenagers should not drink alcohol. It is illegal. More often than not it leads to binge drinking, which often leads to very bad things. It increases the chances of subsequent adult alcohol problems.
Parents should do all they can reasonably do to discourage it and they should be proactive by providing information and making their expectations clear before they have any reason to believe the teenager has started drinking.
Next in Part III: Myths about Underage Drinking
Lord, we come to you on behalf of our family members and friends, who are suffering—and causing suffering in others--due to drug and alcohol abuse. Father, help us to see. Help us to see the peace in things that bring peace. Help us to see the danger in things that bring danger to us and especially to our children. Give us the strength to do your will in our world, our nation, and in our families. AMEN.