Short-term youth binge
can result in long-term habit
By Isaac Olivarez (August
Paul Espinoza took his
first drink of beer at age 6. By age 12, he had acquired a taste
for vodka and drank regularly, stayed out late and engaged in fights.
"I began experimenting
with other drugs and disobeying my parents," says Espinoza, now
22. "My mom tried her hardest to control me, but by the time I was
15 I was out of control." Though Espinoza is sober today, his adolescence
is indicative of many American young people who ignore warnings
that alcohol consumption can be injurious or even deadly.
According to the National
Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse, alcohol is a related factor
in the deaths of nearly seven times more youth in the United States
than all illegal drugs such as marijuana, heroin and ecstasy. Its
a problem experts say isnt going away.
Though rates of underage
drinking have fluctuated in the past 20 years, they remain high.
According to Partnership for a Drug-Free America, 53 percent of
teens reported drinking last year.
Although the legal drinking
age in each state is 21, alcohol use is rampant among Americas
youth. But studies indicate that parents who declare alcohol consumption
off-limits are less likely to see their children develop drinking
"Alcohol is the number
one youth drug problem," says Millie Webb, national president of
Mothers Against Drunk Driving in Irving, Texas. "Underage drinking
is a problem that touches all families, whether directly or indirectly."
A recent report from
the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse revealed that nearly
7 million people ages 12-20 had participated in binge drinking (five
or more drinks in a row). The correlation between underage drinking
and alcohol dependency later in life is not a coincidence.
"Adults who started drinking
before age 21 are twice as likely to have alcohol-related problems,"
Susan Foster, vice president of the National Center on Addiction
and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, told PE Report. "Those
who started drinking before age 15 are four times likelier to be
Kenneth Sher, psychology
professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia, agrees. "Individuals
who consume alcohol at a young age are more likely to have a variety
of behavior problems in adolescence and adulthood," he says. "Early
drinking sets up a more severe trajectory of risky and problematic
While teen drinking has
long been associated with males, girls are increasingly experimenting
with alcohol at an early age. The National Center on Addiction and
Substance Abuse reported in February that 48 percent of teen drinkers
"Because of the way girls
metabolize alcohol (at a slower rate), they get drunk sooner," Foster
says. "So girls who try to keep up with the boys are
likely to suffer a bigger hit than the boys."
The reason for teen drinking
usually doesnt originate from an appreciation for alcohols
taste. "I definitely dont drink for the taste, but for the
way I feel afterwards," says one 19-year-old female.
One of the main problems
with any excessive consumption of alcohol is that intoxicated teens,
like adults, make decisions that put them at risk. While the usual
concern people have is drinking and driving, Foster says there are
"Teen drinking is a major
contributing factor in the three leading causes of teen death: accidents,
homicide and suicide," she says. "Teens who drink are five times
likelier to drop out of school and seven times likelier to have
Often teens dont
immediately realize the consequences of their poor choices. "If
I could go back and start all over again, I never would have started
drinking in the first place," the 19-year-old female says. "Nothing
good ever comes out of drinking."
But not all teens realize
how underage drinking can ruin their lives, says Foster. Most need
help in the form of mentors teachers, adult role models and,
most importantly, parents. But how can parents have a positive impact
on their childrens social habits? Foster says parents who
are actively engaged in the lives of their teens are far less likely
to see their children use alcohol.
"Hands-on parents know
where their children are and who their friends are," she says. "They
send clear messages against substance abuse and give their children
perspective on media messages glorifying alcohol use and making
it appear without consequence."
Foster emphasizes that
parents attitudes about alcohol and drinking greatly influence
a young persons choices. "Teens who do not drink and use drugs
largely credit their parents with their decision," Foster says.
"Parents who set rules and expectations and enforce consequences
have teens who are far less likely to use alcohol."