America has always had a battle with alcoholism. The fight with drinking and the youth has been ongoing for decades, with it becoming the most commonly used and abused drug among the youth in the US (cdc.gov). In the US, alcohol advertising and marketing is primarily regulated by the industry who also enacts its own guidelines (jhsph.edu). It is suggested that current alcohol industry marketing codes do not protect kids as young as 10. Several American studies found that the levels of marketing is as high or nearly as high among the youth as they are among adults. Drinking propaganda can offer a false sense of happiness or the idea that one is escaping reality. Youth between the ages of 12 and 20 often binge drink which leads to an average of adolescents drinking more than adults although it happens less often. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 5.1 million young people reported binge drinking in the last month, while 1.3 million admitted to binge drinking 5 or more over the last month. It is stated that 623,000 adolescents between the ages of 12-17 have a diagnosed alcohol use disorder.
To continue, it is important to know how much is actually considered to be a “drink” in America.
Also, differences exist between male and female drinking activities. For example, for males ages 9-13 about 3 drinks would be considered binging, ages 12-15 about 4 drinks, and ages 16-17 about 5 drinks. On the other hand, for females ages 9-13 the amount of alcohol doesn’t change which is about 3 drinks.
Alcohol abuse can lead to extremely risky behavior that could potentially lead to alcohol poisoning. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is responsible for more than 4,300 deaths per year and those who do not reach a critical ending could live an adult life with serious consequences. Underage drinking comes with legal consequences such as mandatory community service, suspended license, fines and potential jail time (alcoholrehabguide.com). Adolescents who drink too much can damage their liver and endocrine system which could harm their reproductive system, physical growth, emotional development, and a change in hormones. Other incidents such as memory problems, abuse of other drugs, car accidents, and other injuries such as burns, falls, and drownings can also occur (CDC.gov).
Knowing this trend of alcohol abuse among the youth, the Surgeon General has launched a Call to Action to prevent and reduce underage drinking. The Call to Action highlights the importance of community based efforts to monitor the activities of youth and decrease youth access to alcohol. It states that adopting a developmental approach will help to address the multilayered social systems in which they live in. Also, the Call to Action promotes creating opportunity for positive growth and development by engaging them in their communities by way of activity such as volunteering, sports, academics, music, and leadership.
Furthermore, knowing the many facets of life and the toughness of modern society, young people dink for many reasons. Some of the are, but are not limited to, personal stress, social peer pressure, increased independence, desire for it, and easy access. In 2014, 95% of 12-14 year-olds who drink reported to have got it for free by having access through a family member or at home. Adolescents who start drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to become alcohol dependent in their adult life.
On the later end of underage drinking, almost 2,000 college students starting at the age of 18 die from unintentional alcohol related injuries each year (alcoholrehabguide.org). Fifty percent (50%) of all college students engage in binge drinking. College is the most high risk period of drinking, i.e., the first six weeks of freshman year. Alcohol is commonly viewed as the college experience, however, the consequences of heavy drinking is not often realized, especially as a minor. Alcohol dependence in college can result in failing grades, absences from class, sexually transmitted diseases from unplanned and unprotected sex, pregnancy, and abuse of other illegal drugs.
Many warning signs point to underage drinking such as changes in mood, rebelliousness, change of friends, slurred speech and coordination problems. Screening for problems by a licensed practitioner, seeking guidance from a counselor, or participating in outpatient or inpatient treatment are ways to seek help. Family based intervention is also an important option as it empowers parents to create and enforce clear rules against drinking as well as improve communication between both parties. Environmental and individual level intervention work together to change the way young people think about alcohol by enacting zero tolerance laws and creative outlets for expression.