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Teen Drinking

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Teen Drinking

Alcohol use among American teenagers is a problem of epidemic proportions. Alcohol is a drug -- the drug of choice of adolescents and adults. Abuse of this drug Is responsible for death and injury in automobile accidents, physical and emotional disability, loss of productivity amounting to millions of dollars annually, deterioration of academic performance, aggressive and disruptive behavior causing problems with family and friends, and individual financial ruin. It also is the primary cause of criminal behavior and a leading cause of broken homes.

Despite the problems caused to young and old by alcohol, society sends a mixed signal to its youth. The media presents beer drinking with peers as not only acceptable but almost mandatory in order to insure friendship and good times. Wine is presented as a sophisticated and romantic beverage, which is drunk in a setting of dim lights, soft music, and expensive decor. Hard liquor is portrayed as the perfect drink to top of the day and to be enjoyed with the glamorous company of the opposite sex. We joke and laugh about alcohol consumption, our own and others. Parents and teachers look forward to their "happy hour" at the end of the work day. We use euphemisms to avoid the reality of alcohol abuse. We rarely say we are going to get drunk; instead we talk about "partying." We prefer to say that we, or someone else is bombed, smashed, or zonked rather than to call it what it is -- drunk.

Drinking alcohol is presented as routine behavior in many television programs and movies. "Can I fix you a drink?", is a familiar opening line in television and movie dialogue. Occasionally, movies present a stark and realistic picture of alcohol abuse. But most of the messages we send to children are mixed and confused. In fact, many adults attitudes about alcohol are confused. And our schools reflect the confusions of the larger society in the message they send to their students about alcohol use. Our curriculum guides in health talk about the responsible use of alcohol. We don't consider teaching the responsible use of marijuana, cocaine, or heroin. Society is not confused about what it wants its schools to teach its youth about these drugs. But alcohol is viewed differently. No other drug presents this problem to our schools and society.

Alcohol drinking has become the norm in America and abstinence the exception. Yet it is impossible to describe the typical drinker. More men than women drink, but the statistics are changing since the number of women drinkers has increased significantly in the past 10 years (McCormick 1992) . While most adults drink occasionally, about 30% of adults don't drink at all. Of those who do drink, 10% account for the 50% of the alcoholic beverages consumed (Youcha 1978) . For some groups the ideal drinking behavior is not drinking at all; for other groups moderate or infrequent drinking behavior is acceptable; for still other groups occasional heavy drinking or even frequent heavy drinking is permissible.

The media bombard the American public, particularly its young people, with the acceptability of alcoholic beverages in adult society. A report by the Scientific Analysis Corporation examined portrayal of drinking practices on television. The study showed that alcoholic beverages were the most frequently used drinks by television characters. In 225 programs 701 alcoholic drinking acts were recorded, compared to second-place tea and coffee drinking recorded in 329 cases (Royce 1981) . Television characters seldom drank water or soft drinks. Furthermore, many of the references to alcohol in the scripts were of humorous nature. These findings should be brought to the attention of the teenagers in order to help them sort out the realities of alcohol consumption from the make-believe world of television.

Drinking is viewed as an adult behavior in our society. It is promoted as a rite of passage from adolescence to adulthood. The age when young people are taking there first drink is becoming lower each year. Many studies report that preteens are experimenting with alcohol and many are already heavy drinkers. Three of every ten junior and senior high school students can be defined as problem drinkers (Cahalan 1987) . It may be difficult for parents and teachers to believe that a seventh-grade student can have an alcohol problem, but a study of student drinking practices shows that 5% of seventh-grade boys and 4.4% of seventh-grade girls are seriously abusing alcohol (Cahalan 1987) . The largest increase in drinking for boys occurs between seventh eight grades and for girls between eight and ninth grades. Nearly 28% of all high school students in one major study were identified as alcohol abusers (Caholan 1987) . Their immaturity, their inexperience with drinking, and their lack of understanding of the effects of alcohol only intensifies the problem of drinking among adolescence.

Teenagers value driving as a symbol of independence and the highways as a place to demonstrate that independence. Inexperienced driving combined with inexperienced drinking is a deadly combination. A report from the National Center for Health Statistics reports that motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among persons 15 to 24 years old. Forty-five out of every 100,000 people in this age group die in fatal car crashes annually. Nationally this figure translates to 16,500 youths. The study further reports that more motor vehicle fatalities occur in that age group on weekends evenings between the hours of 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. than at any other time. One out of every four senior high school student was at risk of an alcohol-related accident at least once during the past year.

Although adolescents may present a veneer of sophistication about alcoholic drinking, research shows them to be naive and gullible. A recent survey found that more than 50% of the teenagers studied did not know that beer is intoxicating as mineral spirits. Many believed it was impossible to get drunk on beer. Others believed that as many as five to seven cans of beer could be drunk within a two-hour period without risk of intoxication (Yaoucha 1978) . Their lack of understanding of the intoxicating properties of beer is especially alarming since beer is the preferred alcoholic drink for teenager. Where alcohol is concerned, teenagers are short on fact and long on myths. For example, 70% of the respondents in one study believed that a cold shower will sober up someone who is intoxicated; 62% believed that black coffee will serve the purpose. Few realized that only time can restore sobriety (Youcha1978).

Binge Drinking was rated the number one health risk to teens in the United States. Seventy percent of college students polled admitted to "bingeing,"

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