Young people drinking alcohol is not a new phenomenon, but it is a problem that seems to be getting worse in recent years. The dangers of this activity are well reported in the media. Underage drinkers are at particular risk of the most severe negative effects of alcohol abuse. In the United States alone, thousands of teenagers die each year from alcohol-related deaths. Many of those who start consuming alcohol at young age will end up in rehab in early adulthood. It is vital that more is done to educate young people about the dangers involved in this activity.
Young people can begin using alcohol for a number of reasons. The most common causes of underage drinking include:
* Peer pressure. Humans have a need to be accepted by other people. In prehistoric times, this was likely to have been necessary for survival. Young people have a particularly strong desire to be liked by their peers. This means that they feel pressure to copy the behavior of their friends. If the people around them are drinking then it can be hard to just say no.
* Certain personality types seem to be more prone to experimenting with alcohol. Young people may already be demonstrating symptoms of an addictive personality. This can include characteristics such as low self esteem, impulsivity, insecurity in relationships, nonconformity, and attraction to high-risk behaviors.
* Many young people just want to experiment. They will have heard plenty of stories about alcohol and just want to see what all the fuss is about.
* Young people who grow up in a home where parents drink heavily will just assume that it is normal behavior. The parents may even have a tolerant attitude towards underage drinking.
* It seems likely that there is a hereditary component that makes some people more prone to alcohol abuse. The young person’s genetic makeup might mean they are more likely to experiment with alcohol. Some people are born with a much higher tolerance for drinking than others.
* If young people are experiencing too much stress in their life, then they can feel tempted to turn to alcohol for solace. This stress might originate from a troubled home life or problems at school.
Underage drinking is a problem around the globe. In the US alone about 5,000 young people under the age of 21 die because of alcohol use. One in five eighth graders will try alcohol. This number rises to three-quarters of them by the time they hit tenth grade. Furthermore, 29 percent of tenth graders drink heavily.
Young people who consume alcohol are taking a risk. These are some of the dangers associated with this type of behavior:
* Evidence suggests that those who start drinking early in life have the highest risk of developing an addiction later on.
* Young people can do damage to their liver if they begin drinking at a young age. It is a myth that cirrhosis occurs only when people have been abusing alcohol for many years. Once damage to the liver has reached a certain stage it is not possible to reverse it. Alcohol abuse can also increase the likelihood of developing liver cancer later on.
* The brain is still developing during adolescence. Drinking alcohol may interfere with this development and could lead to brain damage. People who drink too much find it difficult to make good decisions. They can also suffer from severe memory problems.
* Drinking alcohol increases the risk of getting into trouble with the police. Underage drinking is not only illegal, but it also increases the likelihood of breaking other laws. Early drinking could be the start of a slippery slope into criminality.
* Alcohol decreases inhibitions, and this means that people will be more willing to engage in other high-risk activities such as promiscuous sex or using illegal drugs.
* When people drink alcohol, they are more at risk of becoming a victim of crime. Drunkenness makes people vulnerable so that they are an attractive target for criminals.
* When people drink alcohol they are far more likely to have accidents. Many young people have died as a result of drunken misadventures.
* Alcohol is a type of drug known as a depressant. The popular image of drinking is that it makes people happy. The reality is that it can leave them feeling very depressed.
* People tend to lose control when they drink. This means that they do things that they later feel very embarrassed about.
* Drinking interferes with a young person’s ability to perform well at school. This may have serious implications for their future.
When a young person is regularly using alcohol there will tend to be evidence of this in their behavior. Signs of underage drinking can include:
* Secretive behavior
* Bloodshot eyes
* Mood swings
* Slurred speech
* Inappropriate behavior
* Periods where they are extremely talkative
* Memory problems
* Declining academic performance
* A lack of energy
* Evidence of memory lapses
* Problems with the police
* Unwillingness to get out of bed in the mornings
* Lack of interest in personal appearance and hygiene
* Hanging around with a new set of friends
* Loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed
* Accident proneness
These are some of the things that can be done to prevent young people from using alcohol:
* Learning about the real dangers of underage drinking can be enough to deter many young people from using alcohol. It is important that such information is completely honest, because otherwise teenagers will ignore the message. Parents should discuss the dangers of underage drinking with their children.
* Parents need to spend enough time with their kids. This can be difficult because of work commitments, but if parents are not having enough influence on their child they will be swayed by other forces.
* It is vital that parents are always on the lookout for any warning signs of underage drinking. That way the problem can be dealt with before it has a chance to develop into something more serious.
* Parents should set a good example for their kids. The do as I say not as I do approach is ineffective.
* Children should be encouraged to take up healthy pursuits. These activities can also be great for building self-esteem. When children have high self-esteem they are less likely to bow to peer pressure.
There are a number of different treatment options available for underage drinkers who have developed problems. Those who have not yet developed a physical or mental addiction may be able to give up with minimal support. Understanding the dangers of further abuse may provide the motivation to quit. Those who have already developed a physical addiction may require time in a rehab. Some of these treatment facilities cater specifically for underage drinkers. Alcoholics Anonymous has a good record of providing assistance for young people who are struggling with alcohol.