Underage drinking is very common among high school students, whether it be to “fit in” with their friends or to try something new. There are many reasons people drink when they are underage, but they may not know all the risks or consequences that follow. Some of the major things that can come from teen drinking are alcohol related deaths, illnesses, and diseases, and bad choices made while under the influence. There are also many effects of the underage consumption of alcohol, including peer pressure, drunk driving, jail time, and the odds of becoming an alcoholic.
While there are numerous sicknesses that can come from the consumption of alcohol, twelve of them stand out over the rest: anemia, cancer, cardiovascular disease, cirrhosis, dementia, depression, seizures, gout, high blood pressure, infectious disease, nerve damage, and pancreatitis. Anemia is when the body’s red blood cell count is lower than normal. Places in the body where cancer can occur is the mouth, throat, liver, breast, etc. Cardiovascular disease can come from it when blood clots occur and cause heart attacks or strokes. Cirrhosis occurs when alcohol (which is toxic to liver cells) damages the liver to the point that it does not function properly. Dementia is when the shrinkage of our brain increases more than normal and creates memory loss. Sometimes when people are depressed, they turn to alcohol to “help” them forget whatever is going on, even if only for a short amount of time. An unruly amount of alcohol can trigger seizures in people even if they don not have epilepsy. Gout is a “painful condition of the joints.” Over a period of time, binge drinking can cause chronic high blood pressure. Drinking can also be a gateway to life threatening diseases such as tuberculosis because it shuts down the immune system. Alcohol can cause a kind of nerve damage called neuropathy. Alcohol consumption can also cause the pancreas to become inflamed, resulting in “severe abdominal pain” (Freeman).
Underage drinking is defined as the act of a person under the legal age of twenty-one consuming alcohol. Injuries and deaths among teens while under the influence are far greater than those among adults. More than five thousand people under the age of twenty-one die each year from alcohol-related incidents: these include car accidents, suicide, drowning, and many others. Drinking can also cause a lapse in judgment, such as violence, sexual activity, and drunk driving. While teens may not drink often, they drink a lot when they do. Studies show that even though they drink only around three times per month, they drink more than five drinks each time. Having five drinks per occasion is also known as “binge drinking.” Also, people under the age of twenty-one are more likely to be in a fight or cause a fight when they are under the influence. There are ways to detect whether or not a teen is drinking: memory problems, the scent of alcohol on their garments or breath, change of friends, behavior changes, mood swings, and dull expressions (“Underage Drinking”).
Although underage drinking seem like a big deal to some people, it is one of the leading causes of death in teenagers. In 2010, MADD, or Mothers Against Drunk Driving, found that 68% of alcohol-related casualties were not from a traffic accident. Among this 68% was homicide, suicide, alcohol poisoning, and other causes. Larry Copeland shares a story about a woman named Debbie Taylor who said that she taught her kids to never drink and drive. She said that she found her eighteen-year-old son’s bottle of rum in the garage and did not say anything about it to him because she knows that she taught him not to drive drunk. Four months later, she is grieving the death of her son not because of drunk driving, but because of alcohol poisoning. Casey, her son, drank a lot of his “stash” one night with his friends and never regained consciousness when he passed out. He had a blood alcohol level of .41 (Copeland).
Even though drinking and driving was only the reason for 32% of teen deaths in 2010 (as shown in the above paragraph), it is still a major issue in the U.S. Studies show that three out of every ten people will be involved in an alcohol-related car crashes; out of those three people, one of them is a teenager (Mendralla and Grosshandler). As stated in Arkansas laws on underage drinking, “It is unlawful for any underage person to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or similar intoxicant,” and, “It is unlawful for any underage person to operate a motor vehicle if there was 0.02% but less than 0.08% by weight of alcohol in the person’s blood as determined by a chemical test.” The penalties for the first offense of this crime are the driver’s license seized at the time of the arrest and automatically suspended for ninety to one hundred and twenty days, a fine between one hundred dollars and five hundred dollars, community service hours, education programs on alcohol and driving, but no probation for the first offense (Arkansas Alcohol-Related Laws).
The effects alcohol can have on your body are sometimes taken too lightly because people don’t know about it. In small doses, alcohol makes you feel happy and energetic, and in large doses it serves as a depressant (Mendralla and Grosshandler). On an even deeper note; in small doses, alcohol makes you feel relaxed, less shy, affects ability to concentrate, slows coordination, and slows reflexes. In medium doses, alcohol slurs speech, makes you sleepy, lapses judgment, makes you emotional, and slows coordination and reflexes even more. In high, very unsafe doses, alcohol makes throw up, makes you pass out, or kills you. Student athletes are putting their physical abilities at risk when they drink. With alcohol in their system frequently, they can dehydrate faster than normal, their body temperatures fluctuate, their blood sugar is lower, which makes their energy lower, and their coordination and reaction is slowed. It becomes harder for them to focus for large amounts of time on what they are doing and they become fatigued even faster than the average athlete (Smith).
Even though it may seem cool to some people, there are many reasons not to drink underage. One of these reasons is memory loss. People suffer memory loss in segments called blackouts, or periods of time when the person cannot remember anything that went on. During this time, the person could do a number of things and not remember any of it (Piehl). Another reason is that it slows athletic ability. An athlete’s reactions and coordination skills are slowed and are less sharp as they used to be, they become fatigued easier, and they become dehydrated faster. It can also damage brain development, because the brain grows until a subject is well into their twenties. The last reason is that it damages the brain’s thought process,
making a person make bad or wrong decisions (Smith). Unlike adults, teenagers drink with the sole purpose of getting drunk, not to quench their thirst. While some teens “drink away their shyness,” it becomes a substitute in order to feel that way again. Using alcohol to relieve stress makes more problems because of effects it has on the human body (Peacock).
Roughly 40% of people who drink become addicted to alcohol later in life. And, believe it or not, alcoholism is a disease. It means the persons crave alcohol all the time, like pregnant women crave pickles and ketchup, and it is on their mind until they get it. In turn to drinking all the time, the body becomes tolerant to certain amounts of alcohol; this means that the person has to drink more every time they drink in order to achieve the same “drunkenness.” The body starts to rely on alcohol intake to function normally, and if the body’s tolerance to alcohol keeps going up, the person consumes unhealthy amounts of it (Peacock).
Although it isn’t legal, there are many reasons people under the age of twenty-one drink. One reason is they want to feel rebellious. They want to break the rules and feel the “adrenaline rush” of not doing what they are supposed to do. Others drink because it is readily available; it is frequently offered by a parent, adult, or friend. They can have it whenever they want it. Also, it is portrayed as normal in media. There are television shows, movies, documentaries, and commercials that show teens drinking and it doesn’t show anything wrong with it. Some famous teen actors are spokespeople for alcohol companies; this appeals to teens because the superstars that they look up to on a daily basis are shoving their faces with liquor in magazines, movies, and everywhere else. Another reason kids drink is because they have a bad home life. They may be abused or have stressful situations going on in their family and they feel like they need to “drink away” their problems. Some teens drink because they are lonely or bored. They don’t really have a good reason except they want to. The last reason is because they have stress related to friends and schoolwork. When it comes to their friends, they may feel like they don’t fit in as well as they think they should. When it comes to
schoolwork, they may think their classes are too hard or they have too much homework or projects (Mendralla and Grosshandler).
Alcohol can cause many issues with the human body. Some of those issues are eating habits. Alcohol affects how the body digests and uses food. Studies show that most people that drink don’t have healthy eating habits; half of their calorie intake comes from alcohol. It affects how the body digests food because it worsens the digestive system’s ability to get the nutrients it needs to function properly. It also causes brain damage; alcohol has the same effect on the brain as aging does. The liver is the most affected organ, though. Three major illnesses can come from alcohol abuse; fatty liver, hepatitis, and cirrhosis. Fatty liver is when the liver can no longer metabolize fat. Hepatitis is when inflammation causes abdominal pain and can be fatal if not treated quickly. Cirrhosis is when scar tissue replaces the healthy cells in the liver (Peacock).
Financial and personal problems sometimes occur in serious cases. If you get charged with a DUI or a DWI, your car insurance monthly payment will go up because they think you are risky and will cost them a bunch of money. In some workplaces, getting a DUI or DWI is enough to terminate your employment permanently; some suspend you for up to a month. Being arrested for anything alcohol-related could lead to a person having to attend rehabilitation or highway and safety programs, or having community service (Mendralla and Grosshandler).
As stated in the Van Buren High School handbook, “a student may not possess, sell, use, transmit or be under the influence of…beverage containing alcohol or intoxicant of any kind…” This is because alcohol is not only inappropriate for the classroom setting, but it is also illegal. Athletes enrolled in Van Buren High School are subject to more punishment than the average high school student at VBHS; because they are leaders for the school and for the community, they are set to higher standards. If they are caught or are arrested for alcohol use, they have so many hours to make up to their coach and have certain requirements to meet in order to stay on their specific team (Arkansas Board of Education).
Alcohol is used more by underage users than tobacco and illegal drugs combined. This has to do with peer pressure and the availability of alcohol. Of the twelve to thirteen year olds in the U.S., 3.1% of them drink alcohol on a normal basis. Of the fourteen to fifteen year olds, 12.4% of them drink. Of the sixteen to seventeen year olds, 24.6% of them drink. And of the eighteen to twenty year olds, 48.9% of them drink. Roughly 37% of students have had alcohol by the eighth grade; about 72% have it during high school. According to Pennsylvania statistics, “5,104 youth were arrested for violation of Liquor Laws in 2011 (which prohibit the use, possession, purchase, sale, manufacture or transportation of alcoholic beverages) (Alcohol Awareness).
According to Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, there are outstanding statistics related to alcohol in youth. Each day in the U.S., almost five thousand youth aged sixteen have their first full drink. The average start-drinking age is sixteen; when the student is in the tenth grade. Approximately ten million underage users report to have had a drink in the past month; over half reported to have had at least 5 drinks per occasion. People around the age of fifteen that start to drink are more likely to develop alcoholism or be heavy drinkers for the rest of their lives (Prevalence of Underage Drinking).