Alcoholism is a particular problem among teenagers, if not for its prevalence then for its intensive impact on their lives. Teens are still developing, and do not have the same skills and coping mechanisms that healthy adults have. They also have an astounding physical resilience, but this only compounds the problem because their ability to quickly recover in the short-term can blind them to long-term consequences. The ability to drink several six packs of beer without getting a hangover may seem incredible at the time, but it does not negate the extreme damage of cirrhosis of the liver.
With all this in mind, let us consider some of the statistics that have been recently gathered regarding teenage alcoholism and alcohol abuse. NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse) conducted a survey in 2012, called the Monitoring the Future Study. According to that study:
- 42% of high school seniors reported drinking in the last month, while 28% of sophomores and 11 percent of 8th graders reported the same.
- 28% of 12th graders claimed to have been drunk in the previous month, compared to 15% of sophomores and 4% of eighth graders.
- 24% of seniors claimed to have participated in binge drinking in the previous two weeks, which the study defined as having five or more drinks in a row. 16% of 10th graders and 5% of 8th graders acknowledged participating in binge drinking.
The study did show that the drinking is not necessarily constant – only 3% of seniors indicated that they drink daily. However, this raises the thought that most of the drinking is at gatherings, and is more likely to be binge drinking. Some studies suggest that as much as 90% of the alcohol consumed by teens is experienced in the form of binge drinking.
Drinking on the Decline
The study did have some good news to suggest. Between 1991 and 2011, the rates of drinking among teens had noticeably declined in all studied groups. However, the decrease was not as significant as some would like.
High school seniors reported drinking at a rate of 54% in 1991, compared to 42% in 2011. Binge drinking in this group decreased from 30% to 24%. While any decrease is a reason to be pleased, the numbers of those who do still drink and binge drink is far too high. These proportions remained true for 10th and 8th grade students as well.
Studies performed by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism showed that, while the trend may be toward less drinking, the numbers do remain very high. Of those examined, the following statistics held true.
Among High School Seniors:
- 80% have tried alcohol
- 73.8% have had an alcoholic drink in the past year
- 62.3% have been drunk
- 30.8% binge drank in the past 2 weeks
- 3.6% use alcohol daily
- 70.6% have tried alcohol
- 63.7% have had an alcoholic drink in the past year
- 48.9% have been drunk
- 25.6% binge drank at least once
- 1.9% have spent at least 1 month drinking every day
- 51.7% have tried alcohol
- 43.1% have had an alcoholic drink in the past year
- 25.1% have been drunk
- 15.2% binge drank at least once
These numbers correspond with the NIDA study, and show that the incidence of at least experimental drinking remains very high. Even among 8th graders, more than half of those studied admitted to having at least tried alcohol, and nearly half had done so within the last year. A quarter had gotten drunk. This is among the group with the lowest incidence of alcohol use out of teens studied – older groups had proportionally more alcohol experience.
Alcohol Effects on Teens
The more someone uses alcohol, the more likely they are to develop either a physiological or psychological dependence on it. The earlier a person begins to use alcohol, the greater their chance of developing this dependence as well.
There are serious potential consequences for teens who use alcohol regularly, extending to all aspects of their lives.
- 13.6% of all drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2004 were between the ages of 15 and 20. 29% of these drivers who were killed in motor vehicle crashes had been drinking.
- Students who drank regularly, particularly binge drinkers, were shown to have poorer academic performance in both high school and college. GPA dropped in each of these cases.
- Alcohol can cause neurodegeneration, specifically in the form of impairing the parts of the brain responsible for learning new facts and remembering them.
Alcohol also remains the leading cause of death in people under 21. This includes car accidents (drinking and driving), physical fights, homicides, suicides, falls and other accidents, and alcohol poisoning.
Alcohol abuse further increases the rate of teen dating violence. The NIAAA states that, “Among college students under age 21 alone, 50,000 experience alcohol-related date rape, and 430,000 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.”
The amount of teen drinking has declined moderately in the past decade. However, overall rates of drinking among teens remain relatively steady. In the college environment in particular, drinking rates remain almost entirely unchanged in the past 10 years.
Alcohol has a serious impact on the health, legal standing, and safety of any young people who indulge in it. While there are some questions as to the role that culture and enforcement play in this matter, the fact remains that there is almost no positive benefit for teens who choose to drink. The potential risks to health, particularly from developing an early form of alcoholism, are too significant to dismiss. Alcohol has no place in teens’ hands, given the serious negative consequences it brings.