Youthful drinking is generally accepted in Europe, North America, and many other parts of the world. Excessive youthful drinking, however, has become an increasing social concern because of its association with lethal driving accidents, party and street violence, and sexual assaults. Underage drinking contributes to the three leading causes of adolescent death: unintentional injuries, suicide, and homicide (Elder, et al., 2010). Studies in the U.S. (like Monitoring the Future) show young people drinking at a younger age and drinking more throughout college years.
Not all students drink, but an increasing number of junior high students have, and most students do so by the time they finish high school. Many college initiations and events are tied to excessive drinking. Binge drinking begins in latter high school years and increases through college years.
According to Child Trends DataBank, the proportion of 12th graders who reported binge drinking peaked in the early 1980s at 41% but began a decline through most of the latter 1980s. 12th grade binge drinking began another rise through the 1990s (from a low of 28% in 1991 to a high of 32% in 1998). A decline continued in this century, reaching a low of 22% senior high school students reporting binge drinking in 2013.
Since 1975, Monitoring the Future, sponsored by the National Institute on Drub Abuse at the National Institutes of Health, has provided the most reputable statistics on adolescent (8th to 12th graders) use of alcohol, cigarettes and drugs in the U.S. (See the full report at http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/pubs/monographs/mtf-overview2013.pdf.)
Their 2014 report on 2013 alcohol use includes the following:
Alcohol has been widely used by American young people for a long time. In 2013 the proportions of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders who reported drinking in the 30-day period prior to the survey were 10%, 26% and 39%, respectively.
Monitoring the Future reports increases in college and university students reporting that “they drank to get drunk” (39.4% in 1993 to 52.3% who reported the same in 1997). In that year alone 34 college students died on campuses from heavy drinking.
Besides setting a legal drinking age, there are few widely accepted norms for drinking in U.S. colleges and universities. On a few conservative religious campuses, students must pledge not to drink. Other Christian colleges do not allow drinking on campus but acknowledge student drinking off campus.
The 1997 death of 18-year-old freshman, Scott Krueger at an off-campus fraternity party of prestigious M.I.T. shocked the school, community and other Boston colleges. His blood alcohol level was measured at the hospital at an amazing .41—five times the legal driving limit. As a result of this and other highly publicized deaths from alcohol excesses, area schools established a 50-point pact including:
First year students will live in alcohol-free dorms.
Alcohol will be banned from fraternity and sorority rush-events.
There is still a great divergence among colleges with restrictive measures and those with open acceptance of drinking as a college norm and forced binge drinking events as “youthful pranks.” In some places, fraternities have been closed down because of dangerous drinking practices.
There are several attitudes toward drinking generally:
Abstainers, those who do not drink.
Those who will take one drink at a meal.
Those who drink a couple of drinks during an evening.
Those who drink to get slightly or very drunk.
Alcoholics who cannot go through a day without a drink.
Attitudes about drinking also vary according to cultures and regions. In Europe, most people drink socially or at meals. Among Muslims and conservative Christians, drinking is not allowed. In East Africa, for instance, there is strong opposition to drinking alcohol especially among church-goers. In many cultures and situations a strong case can be made for abstinence in regards to alcohol.
From abstinence, there are many who drink socially and carefully…which usually amounts to one or two drinks at an evening meal. Others will go on to “nurse a drink or more” or even to overindulge throughout the evening.
High school and university students are not usually “social” or meal-time drinkers. They drink with their friends socially to get high and sometimes to get drunk. In some cases young people have admitted they need a drink to prepare them for social situations like cool parties, and when they get there drinking often continues. It is in such contexts that drinking can often lead to fatal accidents or forced sexual encounters.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
Do you drink? Why not? Or under what circumstances and in what ways do you drink?
Do you know anyone whose drinking habits make you afraid of possible dangerous consequences…or that he or she might slip into alcoholism? How can such a person be prevented from becoming an alcoholic?
Do you know of any youthful alcoholics? How did it come about and what can be done about it after a person is really an alcoholic?
Given the many fatal or long-term negative affects of excessive drinking, would you approve of a ban on alcohol…at the junior high level? For high school students? For colleges and universities? Would this ban cover only public events or would it try to apply to private parties as well?
Do you favor a program like AA or Alateens?
Too often, mayhem, violence and sexual assaults are discussed without reference to a culture of excessive drinking.
Drinking and alcoholism can be serious problems among teenagers and those in their twenties. It might be argued that alcohol is involved in most juvenile deaths and rapes.
Prohibitions and bans are not the most effective ways to deal with adolescent problems like drinking. They may at in some cases be necessary…to prevent initiations that force freshmen to drink until they pass out, for instance. But there must be a way to empower young people to decide that alcohol is not a necessary part of social interaction and good times. Like smoking, teenage drinking, must be seen in terms of its ugly consequences as well as “being cool.” Above all, young people need to be committed to healthy lifestyles.