Published on:

UNDERAGE DRINKING: Arming Youth Influencers with Safety and Prevention Resources

74 percent of young persons consider their parents to be the greatest influencers in their lives.

Resource Article – Part 2 of 2   

Underage Drinking: Subduing the Problem

We start this article with a quote:  “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” – The Art of War

First we define the “enemy” in our discussion which is “the behavior of underage 21 drinking.  According to the National Centers for Disease Control (CDC) it is the most abused of all substances.  And according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) it is responsible for 5,000 youth fatalities annually.   These deaths were the result of homicide, suicide, and falls.   An alarming 600,000 youths under the age of 21 were the age of suffered injuries related to alcohol; 700,000 were involved in altercations or assaults with other youths who were under the influence; and 100,000 became victims of alcohol-related assaults, or sexual assault, or “date rape.”  With these statistics in mind, it’s fair to consider the high risk behavior of drinking under the legal age of 21, as “the enemy”.  

Secondly, we take the position, that it is far more effective and beneficial to prevent minor consumption rather than to face its deadly consequences.

Overview

In our first segment, we provided an in-depth discussion about Arizona’s Underage Drinking crisis; laws, medical, and criminal consequences.  In part two, we take a closer look at causes; prevention, treatment; trends; education; warning signs; the concept of influencers; and strategies being used to help parents and society respond to the problem.

Top Three Sources Arizona Teens Gained Access to Alcohol

In a recent local survey conducted in Chandler AZ, in 2012 by Chandler Coalition on Youth Substance Abuse (CCYSA, the leading methods for youths to gain access to spirituous liquor in Chandler AZ cited “parties” as the leading method.  Of those teens survey, the top three locations where youths admitted to obtaining alcohol in either one, or a combination of the following sources:

  • Parties (54 Percent);
  • Giving money to someone else to buy the alcohol (37 percent);
  • Parents provided it (21 percent)

On a National level, the Federal Trade Commission (FRC) reported that nearly 72 percent of teenagers who drink get access to liquor without paying for it.  Most youths reported getting it from parties, friends, families, or taking it without supervision or permission from adults, or stealing from retailers.

Results from the “2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health” released by released by SAMHSA 23 percent or 2,139,000 of youths who drank alcohol got it from their parent, other family members or guardians.  This has been a continuing controversy in the USA.  Proponents of this practice feel that drinking at home is much safer than doing so away from home; and that the adult family members can teach them to drink responsibly at home with supervision.  Opponents of this practice argue that consumption by youths under 21 years of age is not safe, so therefore, neither is allowing youths to drink at home, even if it’s supervised by the parent.

Underage Alcohol Consumption:  National Statistics and Trends 

Alcohol related fatalities are still the leading cause of death in youths in the USA.  According to a research study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 52.1 percent or 135.5 million of Americans between 12 and 20 years of age reported that they were drinkers of spirituous liquor. This was up slightly from the year before for which a total of 51.8 percent were reported.  Of those in 2012, nearly 25 percent reported engaging in the dangerous behavior of binge drinking just within the last 30 days prior to the study.

According to the National Centers for Disease Control (CDC) binge drinking means drinking 4 to 5 drinks within an hour or shorter period of spirituous liquor.  Binge drinking can lead to serious injury such as alcohol poisoning, and death.

A recent report posted on StopAlcholAbuse.gov reported that in fact, while there is still much work to be done, prevention efforts have made an impact resulting in an overall decreased from 2002 to 2012 bringing incidents down from 29 percent to 24 percent.  Binge drinking declined on a national level from 19% down to 15 percent.   They attribute this decrease to state laws and their enforcement.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that after prohibition nearly all states adopted minimum legal drinking age laws in some fashion. But many states reduced the age from 21 to 20, 19, or 18 to coincide with the legal age to vote.  To encourage states to increase the age limit to that of 21 Congress passed The National Minimum Drinking Age Act (MLDA) in 1984, imposing a minimum legal drinking age of 21.   Millions of dollars in Federal National Highway Construction Funds were withheld from those states that did not adopt the MLDA laws prohibiting youths under 21 years of age from drinking. Under the threat of losing valuable federal highway funding, all states in turn had adopted the law by 1988.  The FTC reported that imposition of MLDA under age twenty one, resulted in both a reduction in unlawful teen drinking as well as alcohol related fatalities and serious auto accidents.     But in those states where the drinking age was lowered to 18, 19, or 20 years of age, the number of minors who drank increased, so did alcohol-related auto accidents, injuries and fatalities.

Consequences: Minor Consumption and Alcohol-Impaired Driving 

The CDC also reported that teens and youths under the legal drinking age, were more likely to experience poor grades; mental physical, cognitive, and behavioral dysfunctions; and disruption of normal growth and development including brain, liver functions, disruption in immune system and endocrine functioning which can have irreversible and have life-long impacts.  The Mao Clinic also reported that some research studies concluded that alcohol use may permanently distort a growing youth’s mental development

High School and College students who drank also had a sharp increase over non-drinkers in suicides; unplanned pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases; legal problems such as criminal arrests related to DUI, youth alcohol consumption, and assaults. They were also more likely to become victims of suicide, injuries such as violent crimes, burns, drowning, physical and sexual assaults; and other fatal incidents. It also may lead to abuse and addictions of other illicit drugs or substances; serious DUI related auto injuries or fatalities.

Young persons under 21 impaired or driving impaired are not the only ones at risk of serious injury or fatalities. Bystanders at a gathering can be injured when violence or altercations breaks out.  Passengers of all ages, and other drivers and their passengers are at risk with drivers under 21 get behind the wheel while under the influence of alcohol.

15 Causes of Youth Drinking

According to reports from The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the Mayo Clinic below are someknown causes that young adults under twenty one years of age turn to alcohol:

  • Stress;
  • Social anxiety or general anxiety;
  • Hereditary factors;
  • Community risk factors such as media advertising and parties;   
  • Peer pressures or the need to fit it;
  • The desire for independence and to engage in high risk behaviors;
  • The expectation of a pleasurable experience;
  • Personality characteristics, behavioral and mental health issues;
  • Low self-esteem;
  • Behavior problems at home and school;
  • Child abuse of other major trauma in the youth’s history;
  • Close friendships with teens who drink or use other drugs;
  • Lack of awareness and education of the dangers and consequences;
  • Problems or conflicts within the family unit such as parental alcoholism or divorce;
  • Inability to cope with the stress of change or transitions such as moves or new schools.

Seven Prevention Strategies for Parents 

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) reported on national research that concluded a staggering 74 percent of teens considered their parents to be the leading influence on their decision to drink, or not to drink alcohol.   The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism outlined prevention efforts at many four levels including the family level, school level, extracurricular level, law and community level. Here we will focus on family and parental strategies.  Their combined recommendations include:

  • Improve relationships with children using good communication skills; listening; problem solving; and seek effective ways to discuss hazards of alcohol use and prevention.
  • Make rules. Enforce them.  Be consistent. Include constructive discipline and carry through on the consequences of breaking the rules.
  • Monitor youth activities.  This might mean getting involved in supervision or volunteering for special activities.  Or it may mean simply informal monitoring at home by knowing where they are and who they are with.
  • Strengthen the family system, and promote bonding.
  • Get equipped with materials such has handbooks, videos, and other information to help education and raise awareness at home, of the dangers and consequences alcohol related crimes. Resources can be obtained from an abundant amount of sources including but not limited to local law enforcement agencies, safety and prevention organizations such as MADD, schools, authority agencies, and medical websites on-line sources.
  • Make time to be involved in your teen’s life. This may include sporting events, attendance at plays if they are in theater; concerts if they are in a band; or any other organized activities.
  • Encouraging honesty, and opened communication: Teens are less likely to be truthful when it comes to engagement in high risk behaviors.  Promote confidence, trust, and honesty.  Let them know you are there to help resolve despairing issues that may lead them to harmful activities.  Never punish teens for being honest, especially if it involves high risk behavior.

10 Warning Signs That Your Son or Daughter May Be Drinking  

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism provides some signs and warnings for parents to be aware of if they suspect their son or daughter has been drinking liquor:

  • Mood swings with anger, agitation and irritability; and
  • Drop in grades, or other school behavior problems;
  • Combative or rebellious personality;
  • A change of friends;
  • Lack of interest in activities, or involvement they used to enjoy;
  • Low energy and lack of motivation to care for their appearance and hygiene needs;
  • Find spirituous liquor cans or bottles at home, vehicles they drive; or belongings;
  • Decreased memory and concentration abilities;
  • Slurred speech and decreased coordination.
  • An odor of alcohol near the youth, on their breath, or clothing.

Four Main Treatment Options

Depending on the degree, amount, and frequency in which a youth has been drinking, treatment is available. Every case is unique and should be treated in the way most appropriate for that person. The parents may begin with these options:

  • Consult a mental health professional to address underlying mental/nervous disorders;
  • Participation in outpatient substance abuse programs;
  • Consult  a substance abuse counselor, specialized in treatment of alcoholism;
  • Admittance to an inpatient hospital or treatment facility to treat addictions.

National Prevention Efforts – Parental Influence is Key to Success    

The US Department of Health and Human Services working together with Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHS) devised an action plant to identified areas to focus on for prevention.   They involved intervention of “influencers.” They may also include teachers, mentors, coaches, faith based ministries, and those who interface with youths away from home.

The plan focused on engaging parents and other youth influencers in the youth’s life both on a personal level, and participating in organized prevention programs.  The calls to action include active efforts to strengthen bonds with their teens, and family, increasing communications, and instill values which will lead to good judgment decisions, behavior, and character development.

Other areas of focus were turned to schools, communities, social systems, extracurricular programs, and law enforcement, local and government agencies.

The CDC recommends other strategies including the reduction of advertising, and marketing targeted to young adults and teens; increasing excise taxes on liquor; and stronger law enforcement of existing laws that target minor consumption.

The monitoring, researching, gathering, reporting, and responding to specifics in the plan were primary plans of action.  Studies would target and identify causes or factors that may increase the propensity of a youth to drink. These include but are not limited to factors such as environmental, cultural, geographical, gender, age, family influences, school influences, anxiety or stress triggers engagement in high risk behaviors such as use of illegal drugs, peer pressers, inherited traits; and other characteristics.

Summary and Conclusions 

Arizona has had a 7 year consistent upward trend in consumption arrests, while the National Average has declined during that same time frame.

At a National Level there has been a decrease in consumption by youths under the age of 21. The credit for this decrease went to enforcement of laws, and environmental factors such as media campaigns, increase in taxes, out-reach programs, and an increase in positive parental influences.

It’s clear that prevention and education area critical in reducing incidents; and that parental influence is a major factor in a youth’s decision to drink.  Parents need to be provided with abundant resources and support in their efforts to raise awareness and positively influence their child.   Both youths and parents should strive to increase communication; and strengthen family bonds.

The continued offering of these programs in community and school settings is emphasized by many authoritarian agencies.  Partnerships and shared efforts are crucial to the success of the programs including those with law enforcement agencies, city officials, medical affiliates, and the many other entities who serve in raising awareness and prevention.

Once programs are in place, they should be monitored for success. Data should be gathered and reported to review the effectiveness programs.  Additional financial resources need to be allocated for those programs that prove to be effective in educating, preventing and addressing under age alcohol prevention and treatment.

Research studies by the CDC concluded that in states with more stringent minor consumption laws and consistent enforcement of them, served to decrease use, injuries and fatalities related to alcohol use by those under the age of 21.

Published on:
Updated:

One response to “UNDERAGE DRINKING: Arming Youth Influencers with Safety and Prevention Resources”

  1. Joe says:

    This is really interesting research. Honestly, I haven’t thought much about underage drinking since the laws last impacted me as a minor. I had no idea that in the last 7-10 years Arizona’s youth drinking rates have grown exponentially! I wonder what is the cause. Also, I wonder if there is a difference between youth drinking rates in cities and rural areas in Arizona. Thanks for the interesting articles.