According to Erik Erikson’s theory, youth is a time of self discovery (Alice and Landale 2011). A young person attempts to seek individual identity which is separate from family. During this period, the youth tend to think in terms of establishing a life philosophy which is free from conflict. This is in contrast to the reality, which is laden with conflict. In this process of self discovery, the youth tend to be rash and ignorant and in a sense consider themselves ‘immortal gods’. This can be illustrated by the carefree attitude they adopt (Hunt et al., 2009).
Many youth engage in reckless behaviors like drug abuse, irresponsible sexual practices, alcohol abuse, bad lifestyle and generally antisocial behavior. Some engage in these practices in full awareness of the consequences, but still continue to throw caution to the wind, disregarding the future implications of their actions (Agarwal and Seitz 2001). This attitude can be attributed many times to the desire to fit in with the rest of the peers especially in adolescence. In these groups, certain behaviors and practices are accepted and not engaging in them implies exclusion from the group. This stage is also characterized by a strong devotion to causes and friends which means that the young people are more vulnerable to the group mentality.
Alcohol is among the most widely used substances globally (Agarweil and Seitz 2001). Alcohol abuse and binge drinking is a serious public health problem in the United States. Studies indicated that alcohol is more popular than illicit drugs or tobacco (Hunt et al., 2009). It is also responsible for an estimated 75,000 deaths annually with 4% being motor accidents (Hunt et al., 2009). Among young people, alcohol consumption usually leads to drug and substance abuse. Studies also show that males record higher rates of drinking when compared to females (Agarwal and Seitz 2001). These differences seem to be diminishing with time.
Among adolescents, it is believed that drinking may be a demonstration of turmoil during adolescence or may be an expression of a singular problem. When it indicates adolescent turmoil, it is associated with problem behaviors which are linked to sensation seeking, impulsiveness and unconventionality. Binge drinking which is drinking more than five drinks in a row is reported to start around the age of thirteen years (Hunt et al., 2009).Drinking increases during the adolescent years and peaks during young adulthood (18-22 years). Studies also indicate that those whose binge drinking increases between 18-24 years and those who engage in it an average of once a week demonstrate certain problems (Hunt et al., 2009). These people have trouble attaining goals which are typical of the developmental transition from adolescence into adulthood. These goals include: employment; education; financial independence; and marriage.
In the US, The legal drinking age is 21years. Young people below this age are however able to obtain alcohol in many ways. These means are both commercial and social. Alcohol is usually available at parties where parental supervision is lacking. They may also use an older friend to buy alcohol or purchase it from stores which do not discriminate against selling to minors. In addition, they may also as strangers to buy it for them.
Alcohol is a drug which is fast acting. As it begins to act it tends to act it tends to positively impact mood and general arousal. Many young people use it to help them to cope with certain situations and feelings. According to Hunt et al., (2009), many young people are not equipped with proper knowledge about the use of alcohol and the effects it has, both short term and long term. Many young people are unaware or oblivious to the effects of alcohol abuse; indeed, this is a direct of the attitude of ‘eternal youth’. Alcohol is known to cause liver disease, cardiovascular disease, alcoholism, and increases the risk of cancer. In addition, it is responsible for approximately half of automobile accidents among the youth (Agarwal and Seitz 2001). It is also a contributing factor in homicides and suicides. It also causes risky sexual behavior in young people, opening them up to unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV. All these consequences of alcohol consumption greatly reduce the life expectancy of young people, if not causing death itself.
The attitude of ‘eternal youth or immortality’ among young people is also responsible for the young people engaging in habits like drug abuse. Many young people begin to consume it for the same reasons as alcohol, either due to curiosity or as an escape from the realities of life. Drug use and abuse has been on the increase among the youth globally. Marijuana is the drug which is most abused globally (Hunt et al., 2009). Young people consume drugs so as to change how they behave, feel or think. Many drugs are manufactured from plants. Examples are: cocaine from the cocoa bush; marijuana from cannabis sativa; and heroin from opium poppies. Some drugs are however manufactured synthetically using chemicals like LSD or ecstasy.
Drugs fall under three categories. These are depressants, stimulants and hallucinogens. Depressants affect the nervous system and cause artificial relaxation and anxiety relief. Examples are barbiturates and heroin. Stimulants enhance neural activity. Its effects simulate intoxication and may cause aggressive behavior. Examples are crack, amphetamines and cocaine. Hallucinogens cause major mental changes like hallucinations, depression, paranoia and euphoria. Examples are LSD, ecstasy and marijuana.
Some drugs have been presented as being less harmful than they actually are. Ecstasy and Cannabis are two such drugs. Ecstasy is said to have no side effects, but its use changes brain functions and damage body organs like the liver and others. Other drugs like stimulants (cocaine, amphetamines) cause long term effects of depression, loss of weight, convulsions and nausea. Depressants (heroin), pose a risk of developing serious psychological and physical dependence which may lead to overdose which causes respiratory depression (Agarwal and Seitz 2001). Many of these drugs are injectable, and many addicts share needles without any consideration of the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Apart from the physical effects of drugs on the youth, another important factor is emotional and social development. Drug abuse cripples the user emotionally. This is because instead of the youth learning to cope with the emotional rollercoaster associated with adolescence, youth or life in general, a retreat into using drugs is taken. The person is then unable to learn how to properly manage circumstances and emotions. The user/ abuser also manifests antisocial behaviors as a result of ingesting the drugs. Furthermore, the drugs ingested are costly and drug addicts usually resort to a life of crime to support their habits. The youth engaging in drug abuse therefore greatly endanger their future by increasing their own mortality and crippling their ability to achieve goals in life.
Sexual Activity among the Youth
A serious concern in adolescent development is sexual activity. Studies indicate that adolescents are now engaging in sex at earlier ages (Hunt et al., 2009). Young people are associated with reckless sexual behaviors, despite innumerable measures taken to educate them on the risks. Adolescents are prone to peer pressure to take part in adult activities. This mainly includes different levels o experimenting with sex. Sexual experimentation increases the risk of contracting STIs (sexually transmitted infections) including HIV/AIDS. Females are also likely to have unwanted pregnancies.
During youth, the sexual drive is strong and if indulged recklessly, may be overwhelming and hard to control. Despite being educated on the ills of irresponsible sex and immorality, young people still feel compelled to engage in risky behavior. It becomes like a game of hide-and-seek, hoping not to be caught. Great efforts are in place to educate young people on sexual responsibility. However, physiological and socio-cultural factors also contribute to this problem.
Electronic media like radio, print and television have been blamed for youth to sexual pornography and thus accelerating them into irresponsible sex (Hunt et al., 2009). Alcohol and drugs have been a factor in irresponsible sex. Alcohol abuse is associated with lifetime tendencies to engage in high risk behaviors. These include: many sexual partners; unprotected intercourse; bad use of condoms; and prostitution.
Alcohol and drugs act on the brain directly to diminish the perception of risks and reduce inhibitions. Unwanted pregnancies are a result of irresponsible sex. Unwanted pregnancies especially in the teenage years create a difficult transition into young adulthood. By young people engaging in risky sexual acts, they expose themselves to various risks including STIs which may potentially and do cause death like HIV/AIDS and other health complications. Unwanted pregnancies cause problems among the youth as they are not mentally, financially and socially prepared to raise children.
Lifestyle Choices among the Youth: Food and Exercise
Obesity is among the world’s major lifestyle illnesses. The incidence and prevalence of obesity is increasing rapidly among young adults in both developing and developed and developed countries (Alice and Landale 2011). Obesity is a condition where excessive or abnormal fat accumulation which impairs health. The rise in rates of obesity globally can be attributed to many factors. It has been found that the leading cause of obesity is the presence of an imbalance of energy between calorie consumption and calorie expenditure. This has been caused by changes in diets, reduced physical activity and rises in income levels.
Diet has been cited as a major factor in obesity. The youth consume foods which ate energy-dense and include less fiber and greater amounts of saturated fats. This causes fat accumulation causing obesity. The youth are also deeply ingrained into the culture of fast food. This culture has been encouraged by the fast-paced way of life encouraged by urbanization and modernization. This fast pace has encouraged ‘convenience foods’ and snacks like burgers and pizzas which are cheap and easily available and unfortunately, high on calorie count.
Lifestyle changes have also brought with it, tension and stress, peer pressure and depression. Today’s world offers maternal allures and luxuries which are much sought after. This severe competition causes stress at an early age. This causes people to consume more food due to the effects of stress. There is also the belief that chocolate relieves depression immediately. Apart from dietary changes, physical activity has decreased especially in urban areas. Young people are especially vulnerable to the ‘couch potato’ effect. This has been brought about by technological advancements coupled with raised incomes. Young people are therefore able to afford computer simulation video games, Xbox, LCD and Playstations. This means that young people stay indoors and seated in a particular spot without any flexing of muscles or physical activity.
Obesity has a myriad of physical and psychological effects on young people. Psychologically, the perception of obesity causes depression in the youth who are extremely more conscious and sensitive about their image. Obesity means that the affected individual does not fit into ‘thin’ representation of beauty. They are therefore subjected to much ridicule and stereotyping on account of their condition (Piernas and Popkin 2010). In the case of female youth, the psychological effects are greatly magnified as they are more prone to engaging in desperate measures like harmful pills, crash diets and eating disorders.
The physical effects of obesity have devastating effects on health. Obesity causes cardiovascular disease and increases the risk of heart disease at an early age. Obesity also causes diabetes (type 2). It is also known that diabetes like obesity is on the increase globally (Biddle and Smith 2008). It also heightens the risk of developing certain forms of cancer. These two conditions greatly reduce the life expectancy of affected individuals as they result in disabilities and death. In addition, the excess weight causes musculoskeletal disorders like osteoarthritis.
Contrary to obesity, eating disorders are very common among young people, especially females. Eating disorders are characterized by intense worry about weight and eating and most commonly affect females. An eating disorder is a condition which is complex and psychological and is diagnosed by doctors. Common disorders include: anorexia nervosa; bulimia nervosa; binge eating; compulsive overeating. Anorexia nervosa causing the individual to believe she is overweight even when she may be thin. Bulimia nervosa causes the young person to eat large helpings of food due to starvation. After this, the individual may cause herself to vomit, engage in excessive pain exercise, or consume laxatives to cause excessive defecation. Binge eating causes the individual to consume large quantities of food at times but does not try to expel it from the body. Compulsive overeating involves the individual to overeat constantly to comfort herself to make up for emotional or mental stress (Alice and Landale 2011).
It is important that young people realize the fallacy of the ‘immortal god’ attitude. While youth is an exciting time of curiosity and self discovery the young person must always bear in mind that the human body is not immune to degradation and illness. All the thrills of youth have accompanying consequences. Alcohol, drugs, sex and food all excite the existence of the young person; but have equal potential to destroy the individual. It is therefore imperative that the young person engage in these activities with caution. Activities like drug use and abuse should be avoided completely.
Agarwal D. and Seitz H. 2001. Alcohol in Health and Disease. New York: Marcel Decker Inc.
Alice Cheng, Y, & Landale, N. 2011. ‘Adolescent Overweight, Social Relationships and the Transition to First Sex: Gender and Racial Variations’, Perspectives on Sexual & Reproductive Health, 43, 1, pp. 6-15, Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost, viewed 9 April 2011.
Biddle S. and Smith A. 2008. Youth, Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior: Challenges and Solutions. Illinois: Thomson-Shore Inc.
Hunt, G., Moloney, M., & Evans, K. 2009, ‘Epidemiology meets cultural studies: Studying and understanding youth cultures, clubs and drugs’, Addiction Research & Theory, 17, 6, pp. 601-621, Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost, viewed 9 April 2011.
Piernas, C., and B. Popkin. 2010. Trends in Snacking Among U.S. Children. Health Affairs 29, no. 3, (March 1): 398-404.