Underage and College drinking-What are the Risks?

Underage and College Drinking- What are the Risks

Alcohol is widely available and aggressively promoted throughout society.  It is the most commonly used and abused drug among youth in the United States — more than tobacco and illicit drugs — and although drinking by persons under the age of 21 is illegal, people aged 12 to 20 drink 11% of all alcohol consumed in the United States.

But, early use of alcohol can draw young people into a host of problems and aggravate existing ones.  Each year, approximately 5,000 young people under the age of 21 die as a result of underage drinking.  This includes about 1,900 deaths from motor vehicle crashes, 1,600 as a result of homicides, 300 from suicide, and hundreds from other injuries such as falls, burns, and drownings.

And, approximately 600,000 college students are unintentionally injured while under the influence of alcohol.  Approximately 700,000 students are assaulted by other students who have been drinking and about 100,000 students are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.

Yet over 11,000 teens in the United States try using alcohol for the first time every day and more than four million drink alcohol in any given month.

Why do some young people drink alcohol?

Young people, like adults, drink alcohol for many different reasons.  Some of the reasons may seem obvious, but understanding the feelings behind these reasons–as well as how everyday teen life comes into play–can be difficult.

  • Young people often drink to check out from family problems or issues with school/grades
  • Loneliness, low self–esteem, depression, anxiety disorder and other mental health issues lead many young people to drink alcohol
  • Young people turn to alcohol to deal with the pressures of everyday social situations
  • Young people may drink to change their image or to fit in when moving to a new school or town
  • Young people may drink to gain confidence or lose inhibitions

Young people are more likely to start experimenting with alcohol if they have parents who drink and if their parents don’t give them clear messages about not drinking. 

What are the Risks?

Whatever it is that leads adolescents to begin drinking, once they start they face a number of potential health and safety risks.  Young people who drink are more likely to be sexually active and to have unsafe, unprotected sex; are more likely to be involved in a fight, commit violent crimes, fail at school, use other drugs, and experience verbal, physical, or sexual violence.  And those who start drinking before age 15 are five times more likely to develop alcoholism later in life than those who begin drinking at age 21

Tom Wilson is a Certified Substance Abuse Prevention Specialist who develops online self-help alcohol awareness classes for at risk individuals to reduce their risks of developing problems from their use.