A recent online survey conducted by Harris Interactive in partnership with Caron Treatment Centers found that 83 percent of Americans think Independence Day is the summer holiday where people drink the most. Survey respondents were 848 Americans ages 18-40.
The research results demonstrated a widespread problem with underage drinking in the United States. The survey found that 78 percent of participants tried alcohol for the first time when they were under 21. Some participants (10 percent) even had alcohol before they were age 12! And most parents are okay with their kids breaking the law. Only 40 percent stated that their parents absolutely had no tolerance for underage drinking.
Adults appear to have mixed attitudes toward underage drinking. While 63 percent are concerned that alcohol is available to teenagers, 41 percent think teens should “learn to ‘drink responsibly’ in high-school rather than waiting until they’re of legal age,” according to the survey.
And perhaps teens are learning that underage drinking is acceptable from their parents. Seventy percent of adults remember seeing an adult or caregiver “engaging in inappropriate behavior while under the influence of alcohol,” such as drunk driving. About 31 percent of respondents stated their parents were okay with underage drinking, and 29 percent of participants were fine with high school students drinking as long as they don’t drive.
Despite the widespread tolerance of underage drinking in our society, drinking can have harmful effects on the minds of teens. Tammy Granger, the corporate director of student assistance programs at Caron Treatment Centers, said that there is a major association between underage drinking and behavioral issues. “Often, we see changes in behavior (e.g. fighting), emotion (e.g. reporting feelings related to depression) or changes in friends as possible indicators of alcohol abuse among teens,” Granger said. She said the brain is still developing at least until the early 20s, so alcohol and other substances at a young age can affect that development in a harmful manner. “While other parts of the brain are also developing during adolescence and are impacted by alcohol use, the development of the frontal lobe – which controls self-regulation, reasoning, judgment and impulse among other things – is the most crucial,” Granger said. “So it makes sense that teenagers struggling with these issues would tend to make terrible decisions. Therefore, teenagers who are abusing alcohol tend to make risky decisions.”
Teens oftentimes learn harmful drinking behaviors from their parents, and this creates a wrong impression of what is normal. “Parents’ behavior can be powerful, since teens take many social cues from them and other role models they identify with,” she said. “Parents can’t make exceptions to the rule just because it is a holiday or because they are in the company of family and friends. It is important to send consistent messages to children early and often about what constitutes as acceptable behavior.”
Lisa Bahar, a licensed professional clinical counselor, said that teens often feel pressured by their peers to engage in underage drinking, so if they refuse to participate they might feel isolated and excluded from their peers, which can lead to depressive symptoms. “Drinking can also sooth anxiety, which can escalate if they don’t drink, so the underlying issue that is driving the drinking may be a general anxiety disorder which can also come in the form of social anxiety and other types of anxiety related disorders,” she added.
Carol Weis, an educator who has also been in substance abuse recovery for 23 years, said that sometimes underage drinking can lead to increased symptoms of depression and anxiety. In the worst case scenario even suicidal behavior and alcohol abuse can emerge in adulthood. She added that women seem to be more susceptible to mental health issues.
John O’Neill, a manager of addiction services for the Menninger Clinic, said that underage drinking can also lead to long-term brain damage, memory, attention and learning issues.
Caron Treatment Centers. Underage Drinking Peaks in Summer, Says New Research From Caron Treatment Centers. Web. July 4, 2013. http://www.caron.org/underage-drinking-peaks-in-summer-says-new-research…
Granger, Tammy. Email interview. July 3, 2013.
Bahar, Lisa. Email interview. July 2, 2013.
Weis, Carol. Email interview. July 3, 2013.
O’Neill, John. Email interview. July 3, 2013.
Reviewed July 4, 2013
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith