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Heavy drinking is a big issue among adolescents around the world. There are many factors that affect alcohol consumption: cultural, economic, familiar, education and social environment are those most frequently analyzed by experts.
Countries usually have a minimum age limit for selling, purchasing, and consuming alcohol. In most European countries it is 18 years or less, whereas in the United States it is 21. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports nine countries which have a complete ban on alcohol: Afghanistan, Brunei Darussalam, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Sudan.
NIAAA also reveals some interesting relationships between teenagers and alcohol. The world’s highest alcohol consumption levels are found in the developed world, including Eastern Europe, while parts of Africa and Asia show the lowest average consumption. In all countries, teenage males are more likely to drink alcohol than females. Religion is cited as the key reason behind low alcohol consumption and high rates of abstinence in Muslim countries.
College campuses are known to be places that encourage adolescents to drink. They are expected to act responsibly, but in many cases this is a naïve assumption because parents’ education, media and social network exposure, and other influences college may bring are not taken into account. Adolescents are also unaware of the negative effects drinking can have on themselves and those around them.
Parents play a fundamental role and are key to the education of teenagers as responsible drinkers. There are two extremes: youngsters who have too much freedom who start to drink with their friends with no understanding of how their bodies will react to alcohol; and teenagers who were strictly prohibited from drinking alcohol by their parents until they reach legal age, who then drink heavily of what was denied them before.
The ideal scenario would be a parent who can teach his or her children how to drink responsibly when they are around 16 years of age. For instance, parents can allow a small glass of wine or a beer to their son or daughter at dinner time once a week. This way the teenager will realize how his or her body copes with alcohol, so he or she can be wise enough to know when to stop in the future.
But this is not the case. If you observe how adolescents drink on a night out, you will notice their immaturity. They break common sense of safe drinking; first by drinking large quantities very quickly — second, by combining spirits, beer, and wine which results in the worst hangover, and third by forgetting to drink enough water to keep from dehydrating.
College and University Influence
Many students leave their homes and move to others cities to be closer to the college campuses. Without the supervision of their parents, students get a lot of freedom that can get out of hand. They celebrate their weekends with parties at private homes, residence halls, clubs, and pubs.
Scholars drink for many reasons: novelty, fun, peer pressure, experimentation, escapism from stress, and the need to ‘fit in’. Many college students drink to make social interactions more comfortable, so drinking competitions are very popular around the campus. The paradox is that the losers are rewarded with more drinks, making the day after the real punishment.
Media and Social Network Exposure
Alcoholic beverages are advertised on television and radio, in print and on the Internet so the temptation for teenagers to drink is everywhere. Social networks may be the worst culprits. Adolescents use Facebook or Twitter to upload alcohol-related images, providing a socially accepted way of sharing their drinking experiences among themselves.
They derive personal satisfaction by their peers’ comments and even gain respect, measured in pints and hours. Social networks create an indirect niche for alcoholic drinks by promoting logos and links to brands. Therefore, the use of social networks construct social norms around alcohol, for instance by the uploading of alcohol-related pictures and jokes.
Movies depicting college parties or even ‘The Simpsons’ with the characterisation of drinkers like Homer and Barney can incite teenagers to imitate what they see. Celebrity alcohol use is also a key feature of the entertainment media’s access to young people.
Effects on the Drinkers and Society
The harmful use of alcohol increases the risk of death, disease, and injury. Alcohol dependence in drinkers leads to health problems such as cirrhosis of the liver, and cancer. Drunk-driving and domestic violence are other linked behavior of problem drinkers. According to the report Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health 2011, alcohol’s harmful effects result in approximately 2.5 million deaths each year.
The impact of alcohol also causes harm to the well-being and health of others. Diseases and injuries from alcohol have negative social effects and increases medical costs, which are force-fed to governments and families. The drinkers’ habits affect important roles and responsibilities of everyday life: work, family, friendship, and public character.
Binge drinking is associated with major health problems like alcohol poisoning, sexual malfunction, unintended pregnancies, and high blood pressure. When an adolescent gets intoxicated, it interferes with his or her productivity, resulting in missed classes, and absences or lateness at work because they must take time out to recover from their drinker’s mistakes.