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By Ranee Robertson

Alcohol consumption by teenagers periodically becomes the focus for public concern and mass media attention. We need to understand why the overwhelming majority of teenagers use alcohol on a regular basis and how the amount and frequency of such drinking can be reduced, with a consequent reduction in those social and health problems for which alcohol use is a contributing factor. To understand the many reasons that may contribute to teenagers’ drinking, and to identify potential action strategies to reduce teenagers’ drinking, a broad range of factors should be considered.

underage alcohol usageOne undeniable advantage in drinking is that in moderate quantities it has a very relaxing effect. And, because alcohol removes some of the inhibitions, it can cause a person to become more talkative, less tense in social situations, and generally to feel good (Alfars and Milgram 88). This effect is important to anyone who drinks, no matter what age he or she is, but teenagers who drink often place a particularly strong emphasis on it. Thus, several researchers found that those teenagers who use alcohol were more likely than other teenagers to endorse the view that drinking is good for you, that it helps you to talk to the opposite sex, to mix more easily with others, and other positive statements (Alfars et al 98).

The teenage years are a time of awakening individuality. While home and family remain the centre of most teenagers’ lives, they are increasingly conscious of the outside world and of the possibilities available to them. They begin to see themselves as separate entities and, in fact, go through a period of wishing not to be seen with their parents and feeling acutely uncomfortable with adult acquaintances when not in structured situations such as school (Maddox, McCall and Bevoda 180). At the same time, the awareness of individuality is not so strong that the teenager does not need a great deal of support and reinforcement. This is where the peer group comes in. More than anything else, young persons want to be part of a group, to be like others of the same age. They want to wear the same clothes, engage in the same activities, and experience the same things. It is very important to be assured their friends are feeling what they are feeling, for the teenage years can be frightening and lonely. Very often teenagers see that their peers are drinking and try to follow their example (Maddox et al 180).

Physical alterations are occurring in the body. New emotions are experienced, such as the first romantic interest in the opposite sex, and the first real depression. Emotional ups and downs are drastic and seemingly uncontrollable. During these years, young people become acutely aware of themselves (Dorn 18). They spend a great deal of time being concerned about their physical appearance. They are growing, but their various body parts do not develop at the same rate. There is a feeling of living inside an alien body and being at the mercy of strange emotional urges (Dorn 28). Many young people drink to hide their insecurities and their social awkwardness (Alfars et al 33). The fellow who is shy around girls suddenly finds that he can talk to them easily after he’s had a couple of drinks. The girl who feels unattractive ceases to worry about her appearance when she is high and finds she can join in the activities of her group wholeheartedly. It is true that alcohol acts to inhibit certain brain impulses and thus causes the drinker to have fewer inhibitions (Davies and Stacey 77). But in these cases the effects of alcohol are more psychological than physical. The alcohol itself does not put the drinker on top of a situation; the drinker expects the alcohol to do so and thus feels that it has (Davies and Stacey 78). Social awkwardness can be overcome without any help from alcohol, but many young people take a shortcut, substituting alcohol for thought and inner personality development.

Much thought and discussion has been devoted to the problem of how to prevent or curb levels of problematic drinking amongst teenagers. The ideal solution, perhaps, would be to employ health education in order to warn the teenagers of the potential dangers of intoxication and inappropriate drinking and thereby to discourage such behaviour.

Also, parents have the primary responsibility of educating their children about alcohol, while the school is playing a secondary, though equally necessary, role. The messages which children receive from parents may conflict or concur with the messages provided by formal alcohol education. Therefore, there should be cooperation between school and parents.

Furthermore, with regard to lifestyles, in their survey of teenagers and alcohol use, Davies and Stacey suggested that young people are less likely to drink if they play a sport and attend youth clubs than if they regularly go to parties and dances (73). Davies and Stacey also demonstrated that heavier drinkers were most likely to frequently take part in alcohol-related activities (80). These included attending parties and discos, visiting pubs and also drinking in other contexts.

Arguments, coercion and love can prevent a teenager from using alcohol but a teenager cannot be helped unless he or she wants help. To date, one of the most successful ways to deal with alcohol use is forming self-help organizations (Dorn 38). In such organizations teenagers who drink can talk openly about their experiences with using alcohol and encourage others to talk about their problems. Such organizations help teenagers to face the problem openly and honestly, which is the first step toward its solution. Basically, it is a kind of group therapy. Teenagers share their experiences, learn that these are common to many who use alcohol, and receive support from the people who can truly understand what they are going through.

Society could make things a lot easier for those teenagers who drink. There is still a stigma in our society attached to those people who use alcohol. Solving the problem of the alcohol use by teenagers is the responsibility of the whole society. We should have an enlightened view of those people who use alcohol because it can happen to anyone and should not regard those teens who use alcohol as somehow weaker or less moral.

Works Cited

Alfars, Albert L. and Milgram, Gail. The Teenager and Alcohol. New York: Rosen, Richards, Press, 1970

Davies, J.B. and Stacey, B. Teenagers and Alcohol. New York: Routledge, 1972

Dorn, N. Alcohol, Youth and the State: Drinking Practices, Controls and Health Education. New York: Free Press, 2000

Maddox, George L., and McCall, Bevoda C. Drinking Among Teenagers. New Brunswick, N.J.: Publication Division, Rutgers Center for Alcohol Studies, 1964
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