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UNDERAGE DRINKING, Part I: "The Big Picture"

Sep 25, 2019

The Big Picture 

In a recent blog post, I asked us to consider how the leading causes of death of teenagers and young adults are often related to mental and behavioral health and/or substance abuse. In this post, let’s focus on substance abuse, as a start to a discussion of underage drinking. 

The leading causes of death among teenagers and young adults are 

  • motor vehicle crashes
  • suicide
  • homicide
  • accidental poisonings, which include drug and alcohol overdoses
  • other accidents related to drugs and alcohol 

These top causes of death account for the overwhelming majority of deaths of young people, who uncommonly die of diseases. Motor vehicle crashes and substance abuse-related incidents also account for much of the disabling injuries, legal problems, and other associated catastrophic events in the lives of youth.

Motor vehicle crashes are often caused by drinking and driving. Suicide is often related to substance abuse. It is common for the victims to be under the influence of drugs and alcohol when they take their lives. And suicide can be a tragic outcome of struggles with addiction. Teenagers who are murdered are often caught up in gangs and substance abuse. Alcohol is often an immediate factor in homicides. The perpetrator has been drinking and/or the victim has. Accidental poisonings are often drug and alcohol overdoses. Accidents that occur in recreational settings, such as the beach and at lakes, are often alcohol-related. 

For good reasons, we have heard much lately about the opioid crisis and about vaping. We have lost and are losing far too many citizens to opioids. Concerns about vaping, which have been articulated by the medical community for years, have become more acute because of cases of severe lung injury, some of which have killed the victims. 

With that said, I claim that if we were to take the long and broad view of substance abuse on Earth, and ask ourselves what substance of abuse has caused the most death, damage, and misery, it would not be opioids, or vaping, or heroin, or marijuana, or LSD. Not Ecstasy. Not cocaine. Not magic mushrooms. It would be a competition between two legal products: cigarettes and alcohol.

Tobacco causes 1 in 10 deaths of adults worldwide. More than 7 million deaths per year. Smoking costs about $1.4 trillion dollars in economic damage each year. In the USA, the health care costs associated with smoking-related illnesses are about $170 billion per year. 

And alcohol abuse is so pervasive and is implicated in so many diseases, injuries, crimes, economic losses, and social problems it is almost impossible to measure. Look at this page for an attempt to do so.

Throughout the USA, it is a crime for a person under the age of 21 to drink alcohol. Yet, it is widely tolerated by parents, who often see underage drinking as inevitable. Some parents passively permit it. Others actively facilitate underage drinking, at the risk of criminal penalties and civil liability, by misguided attempts at “supervised” drinking.

I want to end this first part of a series on underage drinking by stating my opinion, which is based on scientific evidence. Teenagers should not drink. At all. Parents ought to do everything they reasonably can to prevent it. Parents should be clear and firm in their insistence that their teenagers not drink alcohol. If and when parents learn that their teenagers drink, they should treat as either a serious disciplinary issue or as a potential health problem. 

In subsequent parts of this series, I want to make my case. 


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, your Word tells us that we should live soberly and righteously, so we come to you on behalf of those for whom alcohol and other drugs are the cause of pain and misery. Keep our people safe from accidents. Still their hands when they contemplate taking the lives you have given them and others. Give them to strength to conquer addiction. Restore their bodies to health.  AMEN.






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