Red Ribbon Week has officially started! For the week of October 23 through October 31st, millions of Americans will be celebrating this years theme of “A Healthy Me is Drug Free!” To kick us off right, we want to share one of our Floyd Youth Action Team member’s view on underage drinking.
The annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health of 2012 revealed that over 51 percent of the American population ages 12 and older were drinkers. The same survey showed that about 9.3 million people aged 12 to 20 reported drinking alcohol at least once over the course of a month. I’ have never had alcohol, but I am a product of a parent who began drinking at age 13, so I understand the effects, consequences, and emotions that result from underage drinking—the choices my parent made still resonate throughout my life. I watched alcohol consumption by my peers take off once we entered high school. Young people begin to grow up and distance themselves from their parents. Teens get their licenses, and they start spending less time at home and more time with friends. I listen to students talk about drinking on the weekends, afternoons, and nights—most of the time they are laughing and talking about how they acted stupid.
My group and I conducted a survey at school to determine the impact alcohol is having on local teenager’s lives, and found that 60 percent of the students asked drink because they think it is fun. Of the students asked, the youngest age that someone began drinking was 11 years old. My group also found that the majority of teens drinking are getting the alcohol from friends. Underage drinking appears to be connected to teen socialization. Alcohol consumption is connected with fun.
A fellow student of mine has been arrested three times and attends alcoholics’ anonymous meetings. When we asked him how he felt about alcoholics anonymous, he replied that it was fun and just like in the movies. There appeared to be no embarrassment or stigma attached to attending AA meetings as a teen drinker, but there was also no apparent admission that he had a drinking problem which is fundamental to a 12 step programs success.
Teens are willing to do whatever they have too to get alcohol including illegally purchasing or stealing alcohol from their parents. It is also apparent that some stores in the community are willing to sell alcohol to underage drinkers. These teens are adding themselves to a growing number of teens around the United States who make up a pool of statistics. We are aware, According to the Surgeon General, that about 5,000 people under the age of 21 die each year as a result of drinking. Teens under the influence of alcohol are more likely to engage in risky behavior or be subject to harmful consequences, such as drinking and driving, unprotected sex, suicide and sexual assault. Underage drinking is more likely to kill young people than all illegal drugs combined. Long term consequences can also occur in developing brains exposed to alcohol. Lab studies show that memory impairments have been found in adult rats exposed to alcohol during adolescence. Imaging techniques revealed structural differences in the brains of 17 year old adolescents who displayed alcohol-induced intellectual and behavioral impairment. Researchers speculate that teens are more vulnerable to addiction because the pleasure center of the brain matures before the part of the brain responsible for impulse control and executive decision making. In other words, a teenager’s capacity for pleasure reaches adult proportions well before their capacity to make sound decisions. Statistics and scientific observations, however, do not tell the whole story.
As a teenager it is important to have power over your own mind. Teenagers are constantly struggling for acceptance from their friends, and being under the influence of alcohol may provide a false sense of acceptance. Instead of socialization skills and the normal maturing process taking place as teenagers grow into adulthood, teenagers who engage in underage drinking may develop a dependence on alcohol to help them relax and have fun, which often leads to an alcohol dependency.
I believe that drinking alcohol changes your personality and leads to an attitude that causes a person to not care about life outside of drinking. Drinking affects your school life, home life and family life. Personally, I feel that those who choose to engage in underage drinking are throwing their life away. By risking arrest and not caring about school work and grades, the only thing teens are learning is to set their life on a path that does not lead to success. If alcohol is what teens are using to have fun, then we as a community need to change the teenager’s perception of fun. If obtaining alcohol is so easy in our community, then laws and consequences for providing alcohol to minors need to be addressed. Most importantly adults need to become aware that underage drinking is a problem with serious implications in the lives of teens who are willing to illegally purchase alcohol or steal alcohol from their parents. The ease at which teenagers who desire to acquire alcohol obtain alcohol is something they readily realize. They do not, however, realize how easily they can be arrested for underage drinking.
Underage drinkers are not statistics or lost causes. They are young people with life and potential. They make up the future of our community, and it is scary to think of what the future will look like if we continue to sit around and let an overwhelming number of teens drink. No adult would sit still and watch as a three year old played in the middle of highway 27, even if it was not their child there would be action. However, it appears that there is a lack of urgency in the community and the lives of the adults concerning teens playing with an addictive and potentially destructive, yet readily obtainable drug called alcohol. I am here today representing the 50 percent of teenagers who have chosen not to drink, but speaking out on the behalf of the 50 percent of the teenagers who, for whatever reason, have chosen to drink saying “Hello, my name is (you fill in the blank with a face that you know in your life) I am an alcoholic” and we, as a community have a problem.
Anna Young is a Senior at Armuchee High School and a member of the Floyd Youth Action Team.