Why Is Drinking In High School Or College That Big A Deal?

Published: June 11, 2014
Dear Why Is Drinking In High School Or College That Big A Deal?,

Why do adults make drinking while in high school or college seem like such a big deal? Is it really that bad?


Dear Why Is Drinking In High School Or College That Big A Deal?,

HELPGUIDE.org presents several dangers of drinking while young in their article on Teenage Drinking. Consider the following:

The years between 18 and 25 are a time of considerable change, as teenagers spread their wings and leave home, many for the first time. While these may be exciting years, widespread alcohol use means they may be risky years as well. The highest prevalence of problem drinking occurs among young adults aged 18 to 25, nearly 42% of whom admit to binge drinking at least once a month (drinking five or more drinks in rapid succession for men, four or more for women).

Many of us typically think of college as the setting where older teens and younger 20-somethings drink to excess. However, several studies show that heavy drinking is widespread among all young adults regardless of whether or not they attend college. College students tend to drink less often than nonstudents, but when they do imbibe—at parties, for example—they tend to drink more.

The prevalent use of alcohol among teens and young adults is alarming for a number of reasons:

  • Alcohol is a major factor in fatal automobile crashes. About one-third of drivers ages 21 to 24 who died in a car crash in 2009 had a blood alcohol level that was over the legal limit.
  • Drinking may have lasting health effects. Some researchers believe that heavy drinking at this age, when the brain is still developing, may cause lasting impairments in brain functions such as memory, coordination, and motor skills—at least among susceptible individuals.
  • Drinking can lead to sexual assaults and rape. Each year, approximately 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.

Teen girls who drink face special challenges

Teenage girls experiment with alcohol for many of the same reasons that boys do, but they face some challenges boys don’t:

  • Among teenage heavy drinkers (those having five or more drinks in a row at least five times in one month), girls are more likely to say that they drink to escape problems or to cope with frustration or anger.
  • Girls are more likely to drink because of family problems than because of peer pressure.
  • Drinking can delay puberty in girls, while abusing alcohol can cause endocrine disorders during puberty.
  • Teenage girls who drink are more likely to have unprotected sex than girls who don’t drink, putting them at increased risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

HELPGUIDE.org also presents the following information on binge drinking and alcohol poisoning:

Binge drinking—consuming five or more drinks at a sitting, for males, four or more for females—can cause teens to pass out, black out (lose memory of events that occurred while they were intoxicated), feel sick, miss school, or behave in ways that would otherwise be uncharacteristic of them. For example, they may drive while drunk or get into arguments. Some binge drinkers imbibe heavily every weekend and abstain or drink only in moderation during the week. Others binge less often—for example, during holidays, on special occasions, or at times of great stress. This kind of problem drinking may go unnoticed because people may excuse an occasional binge as a celebration that got carried away or as a response to unusual stress.

Although many young adults drink responsibly or abstain altogether, binge drinking is still a common problem. While teens as young as age 13 admit to this practice, it becomes more popular in mid-adolescence and peaks in the college years. College students between the ages of 18 and 22 are more likely to report binge drinking than non-students of the same age. Recent news reports of deaths from alcohol poisoning on college campuses have spotlighted the dangers of binge drinking.

Binge drinkers are eight times more likely than other college students to:

  • Miss classes
  • Fall behind in schoolwork
  • Be injured
  • Damage property

Binge drinkers also face the grim consequences of alcohol poisoning, a severe and potentially fatal reaction to an alcohol overdose.

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