Alcohol: the Number One Drug Problem Among Teens

Alcohol the Number One Drug Problem Among Teens

Alcohol use is the number one drug problem among young people. It’s easy to understand why. For adults, alcohol is legal, widely accepted in American culture and easily accessible. Many kids can get a drink right in their own homes.

Drinking younger

Teenagers are drinking younger and more frequently than previously, often beginning around age 13, according to studies. The average number of alcoholic drinks among college students is five in a single occasion, according to a recent survey. Among those younger than 21, it is 5.5 drinks, and among those 21 and older, it is 4.2 drinks.

Deadly consequences

The numbers show that when young people and alcohol mix, there are deadly consequences. Many teenagers’ deaths are associated with alcohol. Partnership for a Drug-Free America has found that about 5,000 young people under the age of 21 die as a result of underage drinking, many in traffic accidents. Ironically, alcoholic beverages that we may associate with “happy hour” can have a host of other very unhappy results, such as alcoholism, other drug use and alcohol poisoning.

Peer pressure

Young people almost always begin drinking because of peer pressure, in an attempt to be accepted and included in the group. According to a national survey, 11 percent of 8th graders, 22 percent of 10th graders, and 29 percent of 12th graders had engaged in “binge” drinking within the past two weeks.

Binge drinking

This is a deadly, serious problem on college campuses today. Heavy drinking on campus has been widely documented. Studies show that about two of every five college students engage in binge drinking. Frequent binge drinkers at college were 22 times more likely than non-binge drinkers to have problems, such as missed classes, falling behind in school work, getting in trouble or hurt and engaging in unplanned sexual activity.

Some facts about drinking at college

  • Caucasian students age 23 and younger involved in athletics and members of a fraternity or sorority were more likely to binge drink.
  • Students who were binge drinking in high school were three times more likely to do so in college.
  • Research clearly demonstrates that heavy alcohol use by college students is associated with high-risk sexual behavior. Excessive use of alcohol can also increase the likelihood that students will engage in high-risk sex, behave aggressively, or perpetrate or experience sexual assault.
  • Data also show that alcohol and physical and sexual aggression are linked. Aggressive college students tend to drink more, but it may also be that heavier use increases the likelihood of aggression. At least 50 percent of college student sexual assaults are associated with alcohol use.
  • About one in three 18- to 24-year-olds admitted to emergency rooms for serious injuries is intoxicated. Heavy alcohol use is also associated with homicides, suicides and drownings.
  • The link between excessive alcohol consumption and unsafe driving is well known. About one-half of all fatal traffic crashes among those aged 18 to 24 involve alcohol; many of those killed in this age group are college students.

College presidents rank binge drinking as the most serious problem on campus. In recent years, when a series of fatalities was attributed to drinking, the problem has received more attention.

Some facts about young people and alcohol use

  • About two-thirds of teenagers who drink report they can buy their own alcoholic beverages. (Department of Health and Human Services study)
  • People who begin drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcoholism than those who begin at 21. (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism)
  • Young people who drink alcohol are 7.5 times more likely to use illicit drugs and 50 times more likely to use cocaine than young people who never drink alcohol. (The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University)
  • More than three out of every four students have had alcohol by the end of high school with almost half by the eighth grade. More than half of twelfth graders and a fifth of the eighth graders have been drunk at least once. (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2004 Monitoring the Future study)
  • A clear relationship exists between alcohol use and grade point averages (GPAs) among college students: Students with GPAs of D’s or F’s drink three times as much as those who earn A’s. (South Illinois University survey)
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