Alcohol And Teens Essay, Research Paper
Alcohol and Teens
Saturday nights are not complete without the introduction of alcohol into most activities carried out by teens. Alcohol consumption among teens is generally not well received among adults and lawmakers, but it is a fact of life which needs to be accepted and dealt with. This paper will attempt to examine some of the causes of alcohol related problems with youth and provide some insight as to what can be done and what is being done to resolve it.
In The Perils of Prohibition, Elizabeth M. Whelan discusses the current state of affairs relating to alcohol and minors in this country. “Prohibiting the sale of liquor to responsible young adults creates an atmosphere where binge drinking and alcohol abuse become a problem.” (Whelan 169) According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, in the early months of 1998, “18 inebriated students died in alcohol-related mishaps like falling out of windows, falling into rivers, falling down flights of stairs, or simply choking on their own vomit.” (Lizza 12) A 1994 study of almost 18,000 students nationwide, conducted by Harvard psychologist Henry Wechsler, found that nearly half of the nation’s young students are binge-drinkers, meaning it’s normal for men and women to consume more than four or 5 strong drinks in one night. (12) Students who binge drink are known to damage property, have more trouble with authorities, miss classes, have hangovers, and experience injuries more often than those who do not binge drink. Binge drinkers have been found to engage in more unplanned sexual activity as well, and to forgo safe sex practices more often than non-binge-drinking students. Little wonder that, in survey after survey, college presidents rank drinking as the number one problem on campus.(12)
The most widely used policy tool in the campaign against youth and young adult alcohol abuse has been higher minimum legal drinking ages. After a downward trend in legal drinking ages beginning in 1971 when the voting age was lowered to 18, alcohol abuse among the young increased significantly. (Bennet 331) This led states, beginning with Minnesota in 1976, to start raising legal drinking ages. From 1976 to 1984, 27 other states increased their legal drinking ages. The Federal government became involved during the Reagan Administration, which prompted Congress to pass the Federal Uniform Drinking Age Act of 1984. (331) This act forced every state to raise its minimum legal drinking age for all alcoholic beverages to 21 years. After an unsuccessful challenge to the constitutionality of the law, all states raised their drinking age to 21 by 1987.
Supporters of the policy believe it has produced results. It is pointed out that in the past two decades have wielded significant progress in reducing the use and abuse of alcoholic beverages, particularly among youths and young adults. For example, heavy drinking occasions among high school seniors fell by 14% between 1981 and 1993, while binge drinking among 19 to 22 year olds not in college fell by 9%. (Chaloupka and Wechsler 112) Policy makers have targeted youths and young adults because of their relatively high levels of alcohol abuse. For example, motor vehicle accident fatalities are the leading cause of death among persons under 35 years of age, and alcohol is involved in over half of these deaths. (112) Targeting policies at youths and young adults is felt important, since reducing excessive drinking in this population could be the most effective means to achieve long-run reductions in alcohol abuse and its consequences.
A common problem with the current policy is that teens today resort to illegal methods, including the use of illegal IDs, in order to get alcohol. “At least 75% of all college students own a fake ID, and at the bars, they hardly check them,” Camel Jones, a 19-year old student at Champlain College says. (”Underage Age”, 230) A suggested solution to this problem proposed is to “make access to alcohol legal at 18 and also come down much harder on alcohol abusers and drunk drivers of all ages.” (Whelan, 170)
Other countries deal with the mixture of alcohol and youth in a radically different way, which seems to produce better results. Moderate drinking by teenagers and children under a parent’s supervision is common practice throughout Europe. Statistics show that although over all drinking in
countries like France, Spain, and Portugal is higher than the United States, the rate of alcoholism is lower. (Whelan 169) This is attributed to the fact that drinking is not seen as a forbidden fruit, which separates the young from adults. Instead alcohol is seen as an enjoyable Patino 2 family activity that is done in moderation. (169) If children are taught from an early age about how to handle alcohol and what quantities produce undesirable affects, it is less likely that they will abuse alcohol or binge drink like we see among American youth. Whelan believes that the effort to educate adolescents on how to consume at a moderate level should be intensified by both schools and parents alike. She also points out that if public schools have programs that teach about safe sex, why then should they not have programs instructing in safe drinking?
There are those that attribute the American problem with underage alcoholism to advertising. “By the time teenagers reach the driving age, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, they will have been exposed to 75,000 ads for alcoholic beverages.” (”Underage Age”, 221) Even though common wisdom tends to place blame on advertising, only 8 percent of the youths responding to a recent poll conducted by The Roper Organization named advertising as the main cause of young people starting to drink. (220) By a wide margin, peer pressure and parents were seen as the most influential factors. On the other hand, another study conducted in 1990 by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety based on interviews with 468 11 and 12 year-olds found that 88 percent could identify Spuds McKenzie with Budweiser, nine times the number who could identify a Coca-Cola slogan. It concluded that the children who are exposed to alcohol ads “are likely to have beliefs about beer consumption that are more in line with a commercial reality.” (221) Contradicting research is not a first in a country where everything seems to be analyzed, re-analyzed, and finally over-analyzed. If all the money thrown full on into such research projects was instead invested into simple but affective education on alcohol in public schools, we may be surprised to find a even more dramatic drop in the use and abuse of alcohol in the coming decades.
With the advent of the Internet, critics fear that alcoholic beverage companies have found a new medium that can be used to impress youth. A Washington-based group that monitors advertising said cartoons are being used in Web site advertising for alcohol. (”Web Promotes Underage Drinking” ) The Center for Media Education reviewed almost 80 alcohol product Web sites recently and found cartoons, games, and “youth oriented” language which it said could be attractive to under-age drinkers. (”Web Promotes Underage Drinking”) It found only one site, Budweiser’s, offering what it considered substantive information about the dangers of alcohol abuse.
The alcohol beverage industry flat out denies that it targets youth in its ad campaigns. Their main point is that “you do not target your marketing
resources to audiences who can’t buy your products” (”Underage Age”, 223) The main argument against that and many other campaigns like the tobacco industry is that it may not be good business to target audiences who can not buy their products, but it is good business to target possible future consumers. All they need to do is hook them at a young, impressionable age.
So what do the youth think about all of this? As a youth myself I must state that I do not see much success in the current policy as it pertains to the world around me. Alcohol is easier to get than ever as far I am concerned. Luckily I do not need to find myself creating fake Ids or gorging myself with alcohol whenever I can get it because I know that all I have to do is ask. My parents will be more than happy to acquire it for me (at my expense of course). As shocking as this may sound, my parents grew up in a different world where alcohol abuse prevention was taught in the home and not dealt with at the government level. From an early age I have known the affects of alcohol and have been taught to gauge my limits when it comes to its consumption. I am not invincible and I thank my parents for teaching me this. It certainly was the best way to learn instead of simply being introduced to alcohol behind my parents back and maybe turning into a statistic. I feel that alcohol abuse prevention starts in the home and that if this problem is going to be solved at all, it must be solved in the home.