Drinking alcohol is culturally regarded as an indispensable part of one’s coming-of-age ceremony, with most individuals sampling their first alcoholic beverage during adolescence. Although the common views on the dangers of alcohol are more likely to be diluted among teenagers, the use of alcohol in this age group inflicts a myriad of adverse consequences, such as poor academic performance, risky sexual behaviors, development of psychiatric illnesses and alcohol use disorder (AUD), etc.
Compared to the adults, the early exposure to drinking is rampant among adolescents. Some of the consequences of underage drinking include an increased number of deaths due to motor vehicle crashes, homicides, suicide, and other forms of injuries, such as falls, burns, etc. Some of the efforts aimed at reducing the consumption of alcohol among adolescents entail adequate awareness about the risks of alcohol use, stricter laws for identity checks, stringent keg registration processes, and determination of the minimum age for alcohol proprietors, servers and establishments.
The good news is that alcohol consumption among teenagers has declined between 1991 and 2015, especially binge drinking. Binge drinking has primarily declined due to the decrease in drinking among the youngsters who are well off and some relevant interventions. However, the bad news is that the decrease in frequent binge drinking (FBD) is not uniform across all teenage subpopulations, particularly among adolescents from the lower socioeconomic groups, girls and African-Americans.
A study published in the journal Pediatrics and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) delves into the nature of teenage alcohol consumption. It is one of the first studies to account FBD by age, period of alcohol consumption and its cohort effects.
Decrease in binge drinking not consistent among teens
Dr. Bohyun Joy Jang, a researcher at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan and the first author of the study, pointed out that the patterns of binge drinking started decreasing since the early 2000s, especially FBD among economically well-to-do boys. This suggests that the efforts made at the national and state levels, including policies and programs, have been effective but not widespread. It has apparently not reached all adolescents equally. Considering the seriousness of the problem, it has now become imperative to reach all groups to bridge the above gap.
Dr. Scott Hadland, a pediatrician and an adolescent addiction specialist at the Grayken Center for Addiction Medicine at Boston Medical Center, reveals that the use of most substances has consistently declined since the 1990s among teenagers, except the use of marijuana due to the decrease in the perceptions of harm. He also alludes to the fact that about one in two high school seniors reported of using alcohol in the past month in the 1990s; however, in 2016, alcohol consumption dropped to one in three.
Today, more and more teenagers are likely to condemn binge drinking and fewer are reporting that alcohol is easily available. While these perceptions on alcohol use fall in line with the study findings and are a cause for celebrations as far as the public health achievements are concerned, the authors still emphasize that much work is yet to be done. The prevention of excessive alcohol consumption and the health burden it exerts on the youth population demands the banding together of parents, teachers, health care providers and researchers.
Consequences of heavy drinking
Despite the above success in terms of drinking due to effective preventive care and spread of awareness, many of the adolescents remain bereft of the benefits of the various anti-drinking programs. The authors of the study identified some of the key barriers to preventing FBD among adolescents. Some of the hurdles are as mentioned below:
- Unequal access to high-quality care and screening as well as referral services among different sections of the youth population.
- Effective messaging and good preventive care under anti-drinking programs aren’t trickling down amongst all teenagers.
- Need for greater participation by health care providers to screen for alcohol problems and intervention.
- A lapse in effective communication between parents and teenager in underlining the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption.
As most adolescents do not measure their alcohol intake, they are likely to undermine the negative consequences posed by drinking. However, the danger is very real. The top three causes of death among teenagers are motor vehicle crashes, homicide and suicide, wherein alcohol is often involved. The users in an inebriated state are also at an increased risk of harming themselves, making inappropriate decisions and engaging in sexual practices.
Lastly, being at the pinnacle of their youth, they may not grasp the concept of addiction and the long-term health complications that ensue, believing they are immune from alcohol-related illnesses, such as liver diseases, cardiovascular diseases and cancer.
Fight against alcohol addiction
Anyone can develop alcohol dependence irrespective of his or her age, ethnicity, gender and social status. Alcohol has the potential to rewire the brain and cause a range of cognitive behavioral problems, such as memory loss, poor coordination and concentration, mood swings, etc. People are also likely to experience stark changes in their appetite, face problems at work and lose interests in things.