Have you ever read something similar to: “Drinking alcohol as a teen should not be seen!”? It’s funny, catchy, and clever. Such are advertising campaigns against underage drinking. However, what insight does this give into something which really is a problem? We see facts, which tell us that underage drinking leads to deaths and injuries, but we are given only one solution: Teenagers have to stop drinking alcohol. And yet, even though the general consensus amongst the voting population is against legalisation of alcohol for teenagers, teenagers still drink. Perhaps we are simply looking at the wrong things, and the wrong ways to solve the problem.
Let’s start with some introductions. I am a 17 year old male residing in Sweden, a country with the over 20% of 15 year olds drinking weekly (World Health Organisation). This figure is from 2001/02, and from personal experience I would say that this has gone up. Regardless, I hope that my age and experience may give some insight into the situation, rather than having a 40 year old try and explain and fix an issue which they simply don’t understand.
Firstly, what needs to be understood is that drinking isn’t always bad. You might think due to the high amount of teenage drinking that the drinking laws and enforcement needs to be strengthened. But, how could that help? If a 22 year old man legally buys alcohol and then sells that for double to price to some 16 year olds, then who is going to catch them? The alcohol was bought legally, and the police can’t simply go and investigate every household with a teenager which might or might not be drinking alcohol illegally. There is no way to solve this, but, due to me being a teenager, perhaps I can give some insight into the mind-set of the average drinking teenager.
One thing needs to be established first: Teenagers do not drink because it is cool. However, it does have something to do with the fact that everyone is doing it. However, this is because it is considered completely normal for a 15 year old to drink. A 15 year old is not going to a party nervous at the fact that they might drink, they know they will drink, because it is a party, and at parties: people drink. This is a simple fact of a teenage party. And this is also something that will not be changed, teenagers will drink, end of. It is a part of culture which would be very difficult to change, and it does not need to change. A teenager drinking a beer is not a menace to society. Hell, even a teenager drinking a beer, a couple shots of vodka, and a couple martinis is not hurting society much, if anything it improves the economy. I know people my age who have gotten blackout drunk at a party and waking up the next morning with a hangover so bad they feel like they’re looking straight at the elephant’s foot in Chernobyl, and just as the radiation is about to kill them they let out a lovely collection of the remains of yesterday’s dinner and fall back asleep, barely avoiding the call of the void. However, these students get good grades, they have no issues at school, and their social life is completely fine. Now, this does not mean that all teenagers do not feel the negative effects of excessive drinking, but, from my experience, this gives indication that a good life can be led even with excessive drinking.
However, again, do not mistake this as me arguing that it is fine for teenagers to drink excessively. Let’s look at the statistics:
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (for the USA) states that “based on data from 2006-2010 alcohol is a factor in the deaths of 4,358 young people under the age of 21 each year”.
It is undeniable that alcohol impairs people, and it does lead to deaths, which could have been avoided if there was no alcohol involved. So: How do we fix this?
My first reaction to this question is: don’t. We don’t need to fix this. Teenagers will drink, end of story, so why fix something we can’t fix? However, what if we could live in a society where everyone could drink, and no one gets hurt. It would be great, wouldn’t it? This is how we do it:
1. Increase control and enforcement of public intoxication. Most deaths occur when a teenager is drunk and outside. Alcohol impairs an individual’s judgement, so it is much safer to keep a teenager inside a controlled environment. This could work, because most teenage deaths (related to alcohol) are caused when they are outside. This includes deaths from motor vehicle crashes and falling, burning, or drowning.
2. Add a sign to the back of every bottle of any alcoholic drink which describes how to recognise and save someone from alcohol poisoning. I know that I wasn’t taught anything about alcohol poisoning at school, and if I was, I forgot about it. If every alcoholic beverage would describe on the back exactly how to recognise and save someone from alcohol poisoning then it could potentially prevent hundreds of yearly deaths. I found a good infographic on the UK site: drinkaware. It shows an image which describes how to recognise and how to save someone from alcohol poisoning.
Just by following these two instructions deaths related to alcohol consumption could decrease dramatically. However, even by following these instructions there would not be a complete end to the negative effects of teenage alcohol consumption. Alcohol impairs judgement, and so there will always be teenagers making bad impulsive decisions while under the influence, which can lead to deaths and injuries. To fix this, one would need to either change an entire culture and their attitude towards alcohol or install a police state which would monitor every teenager and makes sure that no teen ever has a sip of an alcoholic drink. Both of these are either very long term solutions or solutions which are undesirable. Remember that everything is fine in moderation, and that these problems will only be fixed if we pay attention to them and work together to fix them.