What’s the problem?
The problem does not lie in the fact that a significant portion of youth in the US drink before their twenty-first birthday, but rather the consequences of those who drink to the point in which it inevitably impacts their future – or perhaps even more tragically the lives of an innocent bystander. Drinking is the most common vice of adolescents (compared to smoking and drugs), despite the social cost of alcohol being much higher and the more common government funded PR campaigns are known to denounce drug use in kids, not alcohol. Underage (binge) drinking is tearing the fabric of society with its many dangerous ramifications. The effects of aggressive underage drinking generate an incredibly long list of negatives, some of which are: drunk driving, loss of interest in hobbies, academic struggles, suicidal thoughts, physical or sexual assault, legal problems, and brain development difficulty – serving as a gateway to other drug use.
Alarming Statistical Information:
In 2019, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 4.2 million young people reported binge drinking at least once in the last month, with 825,000 of them reporting they binge drank at least five days or more. Every year there are an estimated 4,000 alcohol-related deaths in people under the age of 21, which is compounded by the fact that adolescents who began drinking at age 15 or younger are four times more likely than an individual who did not to become dependent on alcohol at some point in their lives.
Lack of Government Involvement:
Author Mary Ellen O’Connell from UT-Dallas writes that in 2000, “$71.1 million was targeted at preventing underage alcohol use” by government programs meanwhile the drug abuse prevention awareness program funding “was 25 times higher, $1.8 billion.” This disparity is not reflected in the social cost of underage alcoholism, as the social cost of alcoholism “has been estimated at $53 billion including $19 billion from traffic crashes and $29 billion from violent crime” . For a problem with such a heavy economic toll, you would think further government funding would go towards education and awareness to reduce this massive cost, however, it currently is not.
Long-Needed Reform: What can be done?
We must first acknowledge some of the initiatives the government has implemented, such as zero tolerance driving policies, while also admitting that much more can be done to fix this problem. The state must work to bring as much awareness towards adolescent drinking as they have towards drugs and smoking by creating more informative television and social media advertisements as well as educating the youth in school beginning at a younger age. There should be a required course or unit (supplemental to an already established “elective” curriculum) offered in middle or high schools dedicated to communicating the immense harm in underage drinking to students.