Alcohol use among American teenagers is a problem of epidemic proportions. Alcohol is a drug — the drug of choice of adolescents and adults. Abuse of this drug Is responsible for death and injury in automobile accidents, physical and emotional disability, loss of productivity amounting to millions of dollars annually, deterioration of academic performance, aggressive and disruptive behavior causing problems with family and friends, and individual financial ruin. It also is the primary cause of criminal behavior and a leading cause of broken homes.
Despite the problems caused to young and old by alcohol, society sends a mixed signal to its youth. The media presents beer drinking with peers as not only acceptable but almost mandatory in order to insure friendship and good times. Wine is presented as a sophisticated and romantic beverage, which is drunk in a setting of dim lights, soft music, and expensive decor. Hard liquor is portrayed as the perfect drink to top of the day and to be enjoyed with the glamorous company of the opposite sex. We joke and laugh about alcohol consumption, our own and others. Parents and teachers look forward to their “happy hour” at the end of the work day.
We use euphemisms to avoid the reality of alcohol abuse. We rarely say we are going to get drunk; instead we talk about “partying. ” We prefer to say that we, or someone else is bombed, smashed, or zonked rather than to call it what it is — drunk. Drinking alcohol is presented as routine behavior in many television programs and movies. “Can I fix you a drink? “, is a familiar opening line in television and movie dialogue. Occasionally, movies present a stark and realistic picture of alcohol abuse. But most of the messages we send to children are mixed and confused. In fact, many adults attitudes about alcohol are confused.
And our schools reflect the confusions of the larger society in the message they send to their students about alcohol use. Our curriculum guides in health talk about the responsible use of alcohol. We don’t consider teaching the responsible use of marijuana, cocaine, or heroin. Society is not confused about what it wants its schools to teach its youth about these drugs. But alcohol is viewed differently. No other drug presents this problem to our schools and society. Alcohol drinking has become the norm in America and abstinence the exception. Yet it is impossible to describe the typical drinker.
More men than women drink, but the statistics are changing since the number of women drinkers has increased significantly in the past 10 years (McCormick 1992) . While most adults drink occasionally, about 30% of adults don’t drink at all. Of those who do drink, 10% account for the 50% of the alcoholic beverages consumed (Youcha 1978) . For some groups the ideal drinking behavior is not drinking at all; for other groups moderate or infrequent drinking behavior is acceptable; for still other groups occasional heavy drinking or even frequent heavy drinking is permissible.
The media bombard the American public, particularly its young people, with the acceptability of alcoholic beverages in adult society. A report by the Scientific Analysis Corporation examined portrayal of drinking practices on television. The study showed that alcoholic beverages were the most frequently used drinks by television characters. In 225 programs 701 alcoholic drinking acts were recorded, compared to second-place tea and coffee drinking recorded in 329 cases (Royce 1981) . Television characters seldom drank water or soft drinks.
Furthermore, many of the references to alcohol in the scripts were of humorous nature. These findings should be brought to the attention of the teenagers in order to help them sort out the realities of alcohol consumption from the make-believe world of television. Drinking is viewed as an adult behavior in our society. It is promoted as a rite of passage from adolescence to adulthood. The age when young people are taking there first drink is becoming lower each year. Many studies report that preteens are experimenting with alcohol and many are already heavy drinkers.
Three of every ten junior and senior high school students can be defined as problem drinkers (Cahalan 1987) . It may be difficult for parents and teachers to believe that a seventh-grade student can have an alcohol problem, but a study of student drinking practices shows that 5% of seventh-grade boys and 4. 4% of seventh-grade girls are seriously abusing alcohol (Cahalan 1987) . The largest increase in drinking for boys occurs between seventh eight grades and for girls between eight and ninth grades. Nearly 28% of all high school students in one major study were identified as alcohol abusers (Caholan 1987) .
Their immaturity, their inexperience with drinking, and their lack of understanding of the effects of alcohol only intensifies the problem of drinking among adolescence. Teenagers value driving as a symbol of independence and the highways as a place to demonstrate that independence. Inexperienced driving combined with inexperienced drinking is a deadly combination. A report from the National Center for Health Statistics reports that motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among persons 15 to 24 years old. Forty-five out of every 100,000 people in this age group die in fatal car crashes annually.
Nationally this figure translates to 16,500 youths. The study further reports that more motor vehicle fatalities occur in that age group on weekends evenings between the hours of 11 p. m. and 3 a. m. than at any other time. One out of every four senior high school student was at risk of an alcohol-related accident at least once during the past year. Although adolescents may present a veneer of sophistication about alcoholic drinking, research shows them to be naive and gullible. A recent survey found that more than 50% of the teenagers studied did not know that beer is intoxicating as mineral spirits.
Many believed it was impossible to get drunk on beer. Others believed that as many as five to seven cans of beer could be drunk within a two-hour period without risk of intoxication (Yaoucha 1978) . Their lack of understanding of the intoxicating properties of beer is especially alarming since beer is the preferred alcoholic drink for teenager. Where alcohol is concerned, teenagers are short on fact and long on myths. For example, 70% of the respondents in one study believed that a cold shower will sober up someone who is intoxicated; 62% believed that black coffee will serve the purpose.
Few realized that only time can restore sobriety (Youcha1978). Binge Drinking was rated the number one health risk to teens in the United States. Seventy percent of college students polled admitted to “bingeing,” and one half of all “bingers” do so regularly (Kalb and McComick 89). Most teens, however, did not know that “bingeing” could lead to alcoholism. Six teens will die today alone in alcohol related automobile crashes (Pille 1). Binge drinking has become a popular social activity sometimes caused by peer pressure, problems at home and problems at school.
The consequences of “bingeing” can be deadly, or in some cases lead to severe alcoholism (Jamison). Educating teens about the effects of binge drinking could help bring this popular trend to an end. What exactly is binge drinking? “Bingeing” for a man is an intake of five or more drinks in a row, or during a short period of time. For a women “bingeing” is the same, with the exception that it requires only four drinks for the alcohol to take effect. Alcohol affects the female body differently than that of the male (Kalb and McCormik 89). Binge drinking differs from having a drink, because “bingers” become intoxicated.
An example of “bingeing” would be guzzling pitchers of a very potent drink, such as Three Wise Men, an alcoholic beverage normally served in shots (Purdy 71-72). One cause of binge drinking is simply peer pressure. Some teens drink just so they can fit in (Pille 1). When most teens and college aged students are around friends who are drinking, they are more than likely to do it too (Price 17). In some cases peer pressure turns to hazing. Scott Crougar, an 18-year-old freshman at MIT, went to a Fraternity party five weeks after arriving at the school. Scott was a bright young man with a wonderful future ahead of him.
At this Fiji house party Scott was forced to drink two cases of beer along with vacadie spiced rum. His blood alcohol level was five times the legal driving limit. When members of the Fraternity house found Scott passed out and puking, they simply left him on the basement couch where he choked on his own vomit and died (Walters, Barbara). Another cause of binge drinking is problems at school. Students with poor or low grades may become frustrated and turn to alcohol as a way out. Problems in one’s social life at school could also result in “bingeing.
If a teen has had a fight with a close friend or had a break-up with a boy or girlfriend, they may find it necessary to get drunk (Pille 1). Additionally, problems at home may lead to binge drinking. For example a death in the family could cause depression, or a divorce could cause anger and frustration. All are signs of family members being emotionally unstable. Emotional instability in the home commonly forces family members to binge (Jamison). Forty percent of teens that admit to drinking say they do so when they are upset and looking to relieve stress (Purdy 72).
One effect of binge drinking is people participating in activities they are unaware of and/or will later regret. In a survey of frequent binge drinkers, fifty-nine percent drove after drinking, fifty-six percent experienced memory lapses, and forty-five percent were involved in unplanned sexual activity (Kalb and McCormick 89). Kevin Price sets a good example of what can go wrong when people drink too much. Price is currently spending time in prison for the killing of five people. He had been at a college fraternity party and was binge drinking. His last memory of that night was sitting down with friends to play a drinking game.
He was unaware that he would be the cause of a drunk driving automobile accident that night (Price 17). Another effect of “bingeing” is the disease of alcoholism. Binge drinkers can be alcoholics. Even if a person only drinks on weekends or is a social drinker, they can still be classified as an alcoholic (Jamison). Alcohol is a mind-altering drug. It alters moods and causes changes to the body. Alcohol is a downer which can depress the central nervous system. It can easily become addictive or habit forming (Pille 1). The state classification for alcoholism requires three things. One is a change in tolerance.
This means that each time someone drinks they must consume more alcohol to get drunk. Second is the compulsion to use alcohol, and third is a continuance to drink despite adverse consequences. If a person has any one of these three signs, then they can be classified as an alcoholic (Jamison). The worst effect binge drinking can have on a person is death. An average of fifty-six teens die each year in the western United States alone as a result of binge drinking (Purdy 72). What most people are unaware of is that when someone is passed out, it is because they have alcohol poisoning. This means that they are in a coma.
It is common at parties to pick on the people who are passed out and play games with them. Many people never wake up from these comas (Wechaler 2). One way for people suffering from alcoholism to get help is for them to contact their local Alcoholics Anonymous, or AA. The only requirement to join is that the alcoholic must have the desire to quit drinking (A. A. ). If a person is unsure that their binge drinking is a problem, they can also contact their AA who will give them brochures which include questions. If the person answers yes to these questions, then they will know to seek help (A Message to Teens).
One solution that many colleges are now trying is having open bars on campus. These bars are open to all students who are of legal drinking age. Some people argue that open bars on campus are sending the wrong message to students. The school officials however beg to differ. They claim that all drinking on campus is monitored closely. It is almost impossible to ban all alcohol from colleges, but this way bartenders have control of the amount of alcohol consumed by students (Purdy 73). Despite all efforts to end binge drinking, many teens continue to do so (Purdy 72).
It is believed that mortality rates would be lower if teens were educated more, not just about the effects of binge drinking, but about what to do in any given situation (Wechaler 2). If members of the Fiji house had been educated on what to do when someone has alcohol poisoning, then it is possible that Scott Crougar would still be alive today. It is likely that most of the Fiji house members did not know that Scott would choke on his own vomit and die. Medical records show that if Scott had been treated for alcohol poisoning just hours earlier, he would have survived (Walters).