Confronting Alcohol Use Among Our Youth
Alcohol has long been related to social gatherings, sporting events, and celebrations. The media perpetuates the idea that alcohol is necessary for a good time with friends. This message, however, doesn’t solely reach its intended target of those above the legal drinking age. For instance, alcohol is the most popular choice of substance use for youth across the country, with more adolescents consuming alcohol than those who smoke cigarettes or use marijuana.10 More than 30% of high school seniors report drinking at least once in the last month.10 This is likely because alcohol is one of the most readily available substances and one of most easily accessible for those who are underage.8 While adolescents typically drink less often than adults, they consume more when they do drink.10 As of 2014, 8.7 million (22.8%) youth had consumed alcohol between the ages of 12-17. Of these 8.7 million, approximately 2.9 million (11.5%) are current drinkers (having consumed at least 1 drink in the last 30 days), 1.5 million (6.1%) are binge drinkers (having consumed at least 5 drinks in 1 day, in the last 30 days), and 257,000 (1%) are heavy drinkers (having consumed at least 5 drinks in one day, on at least 5 different days, in the last 30 days).14 This is problematic for youth and young adults due to the potential for both short and long term negative impacts.
Effects of Alcohol
Alcohol consumption at an early age can lead to personal, physical, and social issues that can effect youth and young adults, especially when consumed excessively.3 Those who consume alcohol before the age of 15 are four to six times more likely to have some form of alcohol dependence at some point in their lives compared to those who begin drinking at or after the age of 21.5, 9 The effects of youth alcohol consumption are wide-ranging. On average, excessive drinking is responsible for the deaths of over 4,000 adolescents and young adults per year: this includes about 1,900 deaths from vehicle crashes, 1,600 deaths as a result from homicides, 300 from suicide, and many others from injuries such as accidental falls or drownings.8 In 2010, the economic impact of excessive alcohol use in the United States was $24 billion5, with costs attributable to inflated medical care, resources used for vehicular accidents, and alcohol-attributable deaths.12 Underage drinkers, particularly those who binge drink, are at a higher risk of increased absences from school, poor grades, disruption of normal growth and sexual development, social problems, legal issues, and suicide.5 However, by providing youth with appropriate skills, support, and alcohol awareness, it is possible to prevent these situations from occurring.
“On average, excessive drinking is responsible for the deaths of over 4,000 adolescents and young adults per year.”
Prevention Strategies for Families and Schools
Youth are typically first exposed to alcohol during their formative years, between ages 12-17.12 Parents and teachers play a strong role in shaping adolescents’ attitudes and perceptions of alcohol. Research shows that adolescents who have actively involved parents are less likely to consume alcohol.3, 6, 17 Active involvement can be as simple as knowing where children are and what they are doing. However, parents can easily take this a step further by having conversations with children about the dangers of drinking alcohol, and by restricting their access to alcohol as much as possible.
“ Parents and teachers play a strong role in shaping adolescents’ attitudes and perceptions of alcohol. ”
School programs following a social influence model are designed to address social pressures, teach resistance skills, and offer developmentally appropriate information. Programs following this format are typically more effective at reducing alcohol consumption among adolescents than “scare-tactic” methods.15 Researchers suggests that even brief interventions targeting alcohol use are effective at reducing alcohol use among young adults.15 Brief interventions are broadly defined as interventions providing motivations and/or skills that promote a behavior change within a short period of time, typically one to five sessions.15
Additionally, evidence supports the use of open and honest conversations with youth about alcohol consumption. Specifically, conversations in which youth are allowed to express their perspectives and concerns on issues pertaining to alcohol use. These conversations should address the fact that societal pressures such as peer pressure and media misrepresentations are strong influences, and teach youth how to navigate societal pressures in a positive manner.
Prevention Strategies for Peers and Social Media
Peers are one of the biggest influences that shape youth perception towards alcohol.6 Adolescents and young adults tend to spend much of their free time with peers. Over time, their friends’ beliefs, norms, and attitudes towards risky behaviors tend to influence their personal views regarding those behaviors. 2, 7, 11, 18 This peer influence can be positive or negative. For instance, youth who engage in discussions about the negative repercussions of underage alcohol consumption are less likely to excessively drink, and are more capable of coping with peer pressure. 1
With the steady increase in Internet access, social media platforms, and teens’ unrestricted access to their own personal devices over the past two decades, peer pressure has become even more pervasive, overflowing into teens’ virtual lives. 7, 18 Social media has changed the way youth interact with the world around them, enabling quick and easy exposure to their peers’ activities, and to positive images and attitudes towards alcohol consumption. 2, 7, 11, 18 Research has consistently shown that peers have a strong influence on adolescent behaviors and attitudes towards substance use via social media.
“ Social media has changed the way youth interact with the world around them, enabling quick and easy exposure to their peers’ activities. ”
While young people active on social media have an additional realm in which to be pressured by peers, social media networks do not necessarily always impose negative peer pressure. If used effectively, social media can aid in promoting prevention strategies and intervention efforts. 18 For instance, students who were sent messages on Facebook that challenged their drinking behaviors and perceived drinking norms reported decreased alcohol intake in the following month. 18 These findings suggest that implementing interventions via social media may be an effective method for reducing young people’s alcohol consumption.
Websites like “The Cool Spot” 1, “Straight Talk About Alcohol” 12, “Underage Drinking – myths and fact” 16, are geared towards youth alcohol prevention. Sites such as these are specifically made for tech-savvy teens to easily locate, and provide information and tools to help them understand the realistic consequences of alcohol consumption in a way that is age appropriate and suited to their individual needs. 1, 12, 16 Incorporating these sites with parent and school discussions may increase the effectiveness of efforts to prevent youth and young adult alcohol use.
Schools and parents should openly discuss and educate youth about the resources available for them to better understand the effects of underage alcohol consumption. There are a range of resources where schools and parents can come together with youth to ensure they are comfortable discussing alcohol use and peer pressure to consume alcohol. Tech savvy teens can also access digital resources, to help them better understand the influence that peers and social media have on them and how it may influence their perceptions of alcohol. Learning and understanding facts related to underage alcohol consumption can play a big role in whether or not a youth or young adult decides to consume alcohol.
1 National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). (2010). Alcohol, Peer Pressure, Teenage Underage Drinking. Retrieved from https://www.thecoolspot.gov/.
2 Boyle, S. C., Labrie, J. W., Froidevaux, N. M., & Witkovic, Y. D. (2016). Different digital paths to the keg? How exposure to peers' alcohol-related social media content influences drinking among male and female first-year college students. Addictive Behaviors, 57, 21-29.
3 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2016). Alcohol and Public Health. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/
4 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2015). Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/aag/alcohol.htm
5 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2016). Fact Sheets: Underage Drinking. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/underage-drinking.htm https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/adolescent-health-topics/substance-abuse/alcohol.html
6 Johnston, L. D., O'Malley, P. M., Miech, R. A., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2016). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use: 1975-2015: Overview of key findings on adolescent drug use. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan. Retrieved from http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/pubs/monographs/mtf-overview2015.pdf
7 Mu, K. J., Moore, S. E., & Lewinn, K. Z. (2015). Internet use and adolescent binge drinking: Findings from the Monitoring the Future study. Addictive Behaviors Reports, 2, 61-66.
8 National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). (2006). Alcohol Alert Retrieved from: https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/AA67/AA67.htm
9 National Institute on Alchol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). (2016). Underage Drinking. Retrieved from: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/special-populations-co-occurring-disorders/underage-drinking
10 Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (2005). Drinking in America: Myths, Realities, and Prevention Policy. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
11 Ridout, B. (2016). Facebook, social media and its application to problem drinking among college students. Current Opinion in Psychology, 9, 83-87.
12 Sacks, J. J., Gonzales, K. R., Bouchery, E. E., Tomedi, L. E., & Brewer, R. D. (2015). 2010 National and State Costs of Excessive Alcohol Consumption. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 49(5), 516-524.
13 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2013). Straight talk about alcohol. Retrieved from https://www.girlshealth.gov/substance/alcohol/index.html
14 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2016). Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables. Retrieved from: https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-DetTabs-2015/NSDUH-DetTabs-2015/NSDUH-DetTabs-2015.pdf
15 Tanner-Smith, E. E., Steinka-Fry, K. T., Hennessy, E. A., Lipsey, M. W., & Winters, K. C. (2015). Can Brief Alcohol Interventions for Youth Also Address Concurrent Illicit Drug Use? Results from a Meta-analysis. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 44(5), 1011-1023.
16 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2012). Underage Drinking – Myths vs. Facts. Retrieved from http://www.stopalcoholabuse.gov/media/pdf/MythsFactsBrochure_508compliant.pdf
17 Westgate, E. C., & Holliday, J. (2016). Identity, influence, and intervention: The roles of social media in alcohol use. Current Opinion in Psychology, 9, 27-32.