These slides attempt to estimate the extent of the problem, and point out that teenage alcohol use is probably half of what it was in 1975. It has been declining for twenty years, due in part to raising the drinking age and public education campaigns against drunk driving.
Some studies tend to overestimate this problem, which is actually a declining one.
One fairly recent estimate places the number of heavy drinkers in age 12-to-21 group at 2 million and the number of alcoholics at about 1.1 million, but these estimates vary widely by age, social class, ethnicity, location and how the questions are framed.
Almost certainly there are far more young people with alcohol and substance abuse problems han ever receive treatment, and the younger the age they start the more likely they are to have a lifelong problem.
Slide 3: Drunk Driving is the Leading Cause of Death for Teenagers
Perhaps the most dangerous and deadly aspect of the problem is drunk driving by teenagers.
Auto accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers, and about 20% of fatal crashes among the 15-to-20 year old group involve a driver who was drunk—about 4-5,000 deaths per year and 140,000 serious injuries.
Slide 4: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is a major problem for the children of teenage alcoholics, particularly in poorer areas like Indian reservations and among lower socioeconomic groups ih general.
Teenage girls with alcohol problems are more likely to become pregnant as well, and to give birth to FAS children. They are also more likely to come from abusive and dysfunctional family backgrounds, to be involved in abusive relationships and to use alcohol for self-medication.
SPEECH ON TEENAGE ALCOHOL USE AND ABUSE
What is the true extent of teenage drinking and alcohol abuse?
This is actually a difficult question to answer since the extent of drinking among the 12-to-21 year-old group varies by region, social class and ethnicity so it is difficult to generalize, and some studies have tended to overestimate the problem. Alcohol use has certainly been declining among teenagers since the 1970s and 1980s, partly as a result of the Uniform Drinking Age Act of 1984 and public education campaigns designed to discourage it (Stewart 9). Some studies indicate that even in 8th Grade, nearly 20% have already tried alcohol while 71% of high school seniors have been drunk in the past year and 28% within the past week (National Research Council 14). In addition, children who begin drinking regularly in their teenage years are “more likely than others to wind up with alcohol problems throughout their adult lives” (National Research Council 14).
Sometimes the extent of teenage drinking and alcoholism has been exaggerated in the media and university studies, particularly since the overall trend has been downward over the last 20 years and is probably half of what it was in the 1970s. One very flawed Colombia University study in 2002, for example, incorrectly reported that underage drinkers accounted for 25% of alcohol consumption when the true figure was really 11% (Nichols and Good 131). Underage drinking is not simply an inner-city problem, either, and in fact 8th Graders in rural areas are “29% more likely to have used alcohol in the past month and 70% more likely to have been drunk” than those in large metropolitan areas (Nichols and Good 131).
Why do teenagers begin drinking?
Alcohol and cigarettes are usually far more widely available and easily accessible to teenagers than illegal substances like heroin and cocaine, and those who go on later to develop lifelong problems with alcohol or other drugs usually started with these (Farber 157). Among 8th Graders, 67% report that it is very easy to obtain alcohol, and this increases to 85% of 10th Graders and 95% of those in 12th Grade (Nichols and Good 131). Peer pressure and low self-esteem among adolescents are a common cause for alcohol use, since they “look in the mirror and may feel that they don’t measure up to peer expectations or unreal expectations” (Farber 155).
For example, Jerry began drinking at age 13 because “I was hurting all the time. My family was really messed up. My mother used drugs and wasn’t really available to us kids”, while Corey started drinking in the 4th Grade because “my dad had a refrigerator in the garage and stocked it with beerI’ve been drinking ever since but that’s how it started for me” (Stewart 10). Parents often do not know or are in denial about the extent of alcohol use among teenagers, particularly the youngest ones. Only 7% thought that their 12-13 year-olds had used alcohol while 11% had, while 44% believed that their 16-18 year-olds drank, while in reality 56% did. About 30% of teenagers believed to be nondrinkers by their parents had actually been drunk at least once during the past year (National Research Council 111).
Are there differences between teenage boys and girls?
With alcohol and other forms of substance abuse “teenage women still share more characteristics with adult women than men” (Farber 157). Due to differences in physiology and metabolism, they are more likely to get drunk faster and with higher levels of blood alcohol content than teenage or adult males, and are more likely to turn to alcohol as a form of ‘self-medication’ as a result of stress, trauma and physical and sexual abuse. Mental illness (especially depression), suicide attempts, and a family history of drug abuse and alcoholism are also “more prevalent among both women and teenage girls”, and according to various students, women being treated for substance abuse are “30-75% more likely to have been sexually abused” (Farber 158).
Teenage girls with this type of history and an ongoing substance abuse problem are more likely to become involved in abusive and dysfunctional relationships and engage in high-risk sexual activities, and also to become pregnant. They are also more prone to continue drinking during pregnancy, with a greater risk of having children born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). As with teenage drinking in general, the rates of teenage girls who drink while pregnant vary widely by region, ethnicity and socioeconomic status, with rates as high as 50-70% among those living in inner cities and poor areas such as Native American reservations (Abel 166). This syndrome causes permanent and lifelong brain damage and birth defects to children born of mothers who drank during pregnancy.
Drinking and driving
Car crashes are the leading cause of death among adolescents and one-fifth of fatal car accidents among 15-to-20 year-olds involve drivers who were drunk (Nichols and Wood 132). Young people under age 21 are twice as likely to be involved in fatal car crashes as adults, and this results in 4-5,000 deaths per year and perhaps two million injuries (National Research Council 13).
There are several federal agencies that can provide assistance and information about teenage drinking, such as the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which has information on school-based and community treatment programs for teenagers and their families. See Healthfinder.gov (http://healthfinder.gov/FindServices/SearchContext.aspx?topic=1270&Branch=6&show=1) for a list of links to governmental and nonprofit organizations that deal with the issue of teenage drinking, such as the NIH National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration – SAMHSA U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Al-Anon Family Groups Headquarters, Inc., Alcoholics Anonymous, Center of Alcohol Studies, Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, Join Together, Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol Free, National Association for Children of Alcoholics, National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and The Partnership at Drugfree.org. Al-Anon Family Groups, including Alateen, also provide a number of local community services and programs (http://www.al-anon.alateen.org/).
Abel, Ernest L. Fetal Alcohol Abuse Syndrome. NY: Plenum Press, 1998.
Farber, Naomi B. Adolescent Pregnancy: Policy and Prevention Services, 2nd Edition. Springer Publishing Co., 2009.
Nichols, Sharon L. and Thomas L. Good. America’s Teenagers: Myths and Realities. Taylor & Frances, 2008.
Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility. National Research Council, Institute of Medicine. National Academies Press, 2004.
Stewart, Carl B. Drowning in a Bottle: Teens and Alcohol Abuse. Compass Point Points, 2009.