The prevalence of alcohol is high among American youths as compared to other drugs such as cigarettes and marijuana. According to National Institute on Drug Abuse (2011), 58% of college students aged 18-22 consumed alcohol while 39% reported binge drinking. As such, In America, underage drinking has been a growing serious public health issue. College and underage drinking poses not only health risks but also undermines the safety of the victims and the society in general. It contributes to aggression and violence, car accidents, injuries, and more importantly to countless deaths. The immaturity of the young audience coupled with a point in time where they are asserting independence creates a situation where many adolescents are drawn in (White, & Hingson, 2014). This problem has no known solution; however, there are many suggestions for mitigating this growing concern. Once such recommendation includes implementing a higher minimum drinking age. College students and underage drinking is a serious issue that needs to be addressed by identifying and implementing potential preventative measures to reduce alcohol abuse by the young generation and thus avoid the consequences that may ensue. As such, this paper will attempt to identify the main contributing factors, the associated risks and consequences of underage drinking and the impact of implementing a higher minimum drinking age on the vulnerable youth of America.
The Federal Government policy that raised the minimum drinking age from 18 years to 21 across all the states in the U.S has offered a very operational approach to upturn youth health and safety. Lives taken because of alcohol-related crashes have been reduced significantly. The higher minimum drinking age is associated with 50% fewer crashes and also related to lower rates of alcohol drinking and other related complications. However, a lot of teenagers and young adults under the age of 21 still have access to alcoholic beverages. The society tends to accept the fact that alcohol consumption among teenagers and young adults is a normal behavior. Statistics indicate that by the time a teenager is in grade 12, most of them (approximately 71%) have consumed alcohol at least once in their lives (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2011). Teenagers and young adults particularly those in college tend to drink at even higher level.
Despite the significant effort by the government and other stakeholders in reducing adolescent drinking and other related problem, the prevalence of the alcohol use among the youth under the age of 21 is still high. Many people still do not notice that alcohol usage poses serious consequences not only to the abusers but also other teenagers and the society at large (Hanes, 2012).
Main Contributing Factors to College and Underage Drinking
The teenage stage is a stage where young individuals try to form an identity and fit in with other peers (Esser, 2012). Teenagers tend to be under pressure to perform at schools as well as other extra curriculum activities such as sports. Getting into college is one of the important things teenage desire to achieve, and many are afraid of not making it and disappointing not only their parents but also themselves. They may be experiencing problems with their friends, at home, or in romantic relationships. Teenagers also tend to be more impulsive as compared to adults and at times they may act even without considering the consequences.
Despite the fact that most of the students join university already having used alcohol once or twice, certain facets of college life like limited interaction with parents and other adults, unstructured time, the convenience of alcohol availability and unreliable enforcement of underage drinking laws can escalate the problem (Esser, 2017). It is a fact that the binge-drinking rates and incidence of driving after consuming alcohol is higher among college students as compared to non-college youth (Hanes, 2012). First-year students are more vulnerable to heavy drinking and alcohol-related outcomes due to student expectations as well as the social pressures that new students undergo when joining college (Hanes, 2012).
One of the main contributing factors that determine if a teenage will abuse alcohol is family history. According to Gonzales et al. (2015), teenagers raised in a family where some of the family members use drugs particularly alcohol are at a risk of abusing alcohol and drugs. If a child grows in a household where both or one parent abuse alcohol, they may see that the behavior is normal or acceptable. Such a teenager can also easily access alcohol because both of their parents are using the drug.
On the other hand, parents who raise their children in an environment with no alcohol or drugs and respond to their teenage needs tend to be better in regulating their children emotions as well as behaviors (White & Hingson, 2014). Teenagers raised from such families may not abuse alcohol. Parents who have greater warmth, moderate discipline and limited stress can instill to their children with discipline and the ability to regulate and control themselves from succumbing to peer pressure.
Depression is another factor that may make teenagers abuse alcohol. Many teenagers have a hard time in handling daily stress they experience resulting in depression. In a situation where a teenager does not know how to deal with depression, he or she may turn to alcohol as a way of relieving stress as well as numb his or her feelings (White & Hingson, 2014). On the other hand, teenagers who have learned how to deal with their feelings properly can easily avoid misusing drugs as a way of avoiding stress and depression. A good example of dealing with stress healthily is to speak to a family member or a friend to solve problems or participate in activities such as sport as a way of handling stress and depression.
Another major factor that may influence teenagers to engage in alcohol abuse is peer pressure. Teens that have friends who drink alcohol are more likely to begin drinking. Not drinking may make them feel alienated from their friends who are an uncomfortable situation for adolescents. On the same note, young people who attend parties where alcohol is present might be tempted to try out alcohol. The first experience may make them like alcohol and continue drinking alcohol regularly leading to abuse of alcohol.
Experimentation with alcohol because of peer pressure can have potentially dangerous concerns. However, researchers have noted that experimentation and increased risk-taking among adolescent is an important part of developmental progression, as they begin to shape their identities and develop strong bonds with other people within the society (Esser, 2017).
Lack of social support
Adolescents who have a hard time in socializing, building, and maintaining a healthy relationship may resort to alcohol. A teen whose parents are always absent, lack friends, and have problems meeting and interacting with new people tend to feel lonely and become stressed. Most of the children who lack proper social support system tend to develop a low self-esteem.
Advertisement and Media Influences
Uncontrolled advertisements have been increasing over the years. Be as it may, media tend to portray alcohol consumption stylishly and fun. Alcohol companies tend to sponsor popular events and may also give free products to young people. According to Esser et al. (2017), alcohol promotion may influence the behaviors and beliefs of teens inducing them to consume alcohol unlawfully.
Youth access to alcohol
Availability of alcohol to youths is also one of the contributing factors of underage drinking. Not all sellers are keen enough in barring underage youths from purchasing alcohol. Some youths may also provide fake identifications to deceive sellers and purchase alcohol. Research indicates that persons who were allowed to purchase alcohol lawfully before the age of 21 are more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder or other drug use issues late in life.
In some instance, teens may convince adults to purchase alcohol for them or rather steal liquor from their friends, or parents. Adults may also buy liquor and offer to the youths during parties or events.
Effects of the Problem
Alcohol consumption by teens and college students may result in serious health concerns in the short-term as well as long-term perspective. Some of the health consequences of college students and underage drinking include:
Risky Sexual Behavior
Teenagers who consume alcohol often tend to exhibit risky sexual behavior such as having sex when drinking, engaging in unplanned or unprotected sex, have a sexual experience at an earlier age, unexpected pregnancies among others. Such risky behavior tends to result in contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or have babies that have Alcohol Spectrum (FAS) disorders (White & Hingson, 2014).
Alcohol abuse during adolescent may result in negative effects on the brain. According to Christenson & Geiger (2014), abuse of alcohol and other drugs can alter the chemical makeup and structure of the brain resulting in brain disorders. On the same note, teens tend to have a diminished sensitivity to intoxication, and thus they can consume a lot of alcohol without feeling very intoxicated. The reason could be the fact that youths have higher metabolic rates as compared to adults. The main mental problems associated with alcohol abuse include chronic alcohol addiction and alcohol dependence (Christenson & Geiger 2014).
Alcohol poisoning tends to happen when individual drinks a lot of alcohol within a short period. According to Esser et al. (2017), binge drinking is among the primary causes of alcohol poisoning. Binge drinking is when a person consumers more than five drinks or more drinks within a short time. This behavior is prevalent to college students or teens because they are inexperienced and are more likely to binge drink.
Use of other drugs
Using alcohol at a tender age is harmful as such teens are more likely to consume other drugs. Despite the fact that other factors tend to determine whether youth progresses to use other drugs and the types of drugs they use, alcohol tends to be followed by the use of tobacco, followed by marijuana and then other illegal drugs.
Apart from health consequences, underage drinking may also result in safety consequences such as:
Impaired decision making
Alcohol impairs both the judgment and coordination while driving cars and other machinery making them cause accidents. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (2010), approximately 600,000 students have been intentionally injured while they were intoxicated. The number of teenage drivers involved in fatal motor vehicle accidents in the year 2010 is approximately 5,051 in the United States (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2010). Of these teenage drivers, 19% of them had a higher blood alcohol concentration levels that surpass the permissible limit of 0.008. Such vehicle crashes result in various kind of injuries including lifetime disabilities, minor wounds, and even death 9Hanes, 2012).
Underage drinkers engage in violent acts as compared to those who do not drink. Some of the common acts include
Homicide: According to Hanes (2012), homicide is the second prominent cause of bereavement among college students between the ages of 15 and 24. Statistics indicate that 36 percent of underage homicides involved the consumption of alcohol.
Physical violence: Alcohol consumer...
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