Alcohol is ubiquitous in Western culture. It is a key component of social life and is frequently promoted in the media and sport. Young people are immersed in a culture in which over 60% of adults drink alcohol in any given week and where one in six get drunk. Within this culture is the rising problem of under-age drinking. Evident by the admittance of thousands of students into hospital every year due to alcohol abuse.
Most governments have attempted to respond to drinking culture with numerous laws that aim to tackle alcohol related crime and disorder. As well as high fines imposed for the encouragement under-age drinking. Despite all legal efforts, alcohol is still freely available at cheap prices and is easily accessible to teenagers.
The health risks of under-age drinking are of great concern. Although the exact damage to a person will be dependent on the teenagers’ size, weight, age and sex; heavy drinking from a young age can result in long-term health conditions which include cancer, coronary disorders, impotence and liver disease. Over the last decade there has been a sharp rise in deaths from liver disease among people aged 25-34, this is thought to be the result of heavy consumption of alcohol from a young age.
The damage caused by underage drinking goes beyond the individual consumer. The risks of causing harm to others through involvement in crimes which include drink driving and violent assaults are also increased. A survey by the Home Office found nearly one in five of 12-13 year olds and over a quarter of 14-15 year olds caused damage while drinking.
Equally drunkenness puts teenagers at a greater risk of sexual abuse. Young people are naturally at risk to sexual exploitation and harm for a wide variety of reasons which often relates to familial issues, however alcohol heightens the vulnerability of such people. It is often the case that the peer-pressure to drink alcohol extends to peer-pressure surrounding sex, as exemplified in a 2007 survey in which 11% of teenagers claimed to regret a sexual encounter when drunk.
Mental health and psychological stability can too be affected by under-age drinking. As already mentioned, the traumas encountered when drunk can leave a lasting impact, but heavy drinking can also create difficulties in the education of a person as learning and mental development are made more difficult. A further negative health effect is the addictive nature of alcohol. Alcohol addiction is common within society and creates future economic and social problems for those involved. Addiction is made more probable in those who have been drinking from an early age.
From all of the above it appears under-age drinking is a rising problem. Alcohol is an easily accessed drug and, given the constant promotion by producers through the media, the appeal to young people comes as no surprise. Adolescence is a time of uncertainty, doubt and anxiety; for that to be accompanied by the availability of a legal drug which induces confidence and excitement is very dangerous, when the greater implications of the drug are not fully understood. Within the framework of a drinking culture which encourages such behavior it only follows that many teenagers cave into peer-pressure in order to feel better about their self image.
The reasons for under-age drinking are multifaceted and complex, arising from a range of social, political and economic factors. However, as a rising problem these factors need to be addressed. People can be reassured that under-age drinking is not something which must be endured alone, and that help is out there to deal with young people who suffer from dependence on alcohol.
This post was written by Stanley Martinson. Stanley is concerned with issues of health and alcohol abuse. If you’re interested in reading more on this pertinent subject, read here!