It’s no secret that underage drinking is a growing issue in the UK – in fact, up to 5,000 people die each year as a result of underage drinking. The main issue with alcohol is that many teenagers do not seem to understand their limits – when they drink, they drink intensively. In fact, alcohol is the most commonly abused drug by adolescents! Yet the most dangerous and frightening thing of all is that many teenagers don’t even understand that alcohol is, in fact, a drug – and a very dangerous one at that.
It is not necessarily the alcohol itself that is such an issue – like many other things, it is fine in moderation. It is the amount of alcohol consumed over such a short period of time that is such a problem and causes harm. As their bodies are still growing, teenagers who regularly consume large amounts of alcohol run the risk of actually stunting their growth. Not only this, but drinking at a young age has also been shown to negatively affect the brain and liver, causing problems in later life. Studies have also shown that drinking large amounts of alcohol at a younger age dramatically increases the risk of alcohol dependence in later life.
It’s very simple to argue that you know your own limits and won’t lose control, but the temptations are often too much to resist …but exactly how much is too much? When is it time to stop? Drinks such as ‘alcopops’ and ‘alcohol energy drinks’ were perhaps designed specifically to a teenage audience, and as they have a lower alcohol content than most drinks, this gives teens the excuse to drink even more – in fact, many people who are given such drinks often don’t even know they contain alcohol! However, even one can of some of these alcoholic beverages has about as much caffeine in it as a large cup of coffee, as well as a variety of other additives and stimulants designed to give the consumer a false sense of alertness. These can often mask the effects of the alcohol, making its effects much less noticable, causing the consumer to drink even more. As these drinks are often marketed to teens who often do not have as much experience with alcohol and are eager to experiment, this makes such drinks extremely dangerous.
By the age of 15, 50% of teens claim to have had at least one alcoholic drink before. By the age of 18, this figure rises to 70%. However, as teens under the age of 18 cannot legally buy alcohol themselves, this is very often made possible by adults, and whilst teens often drink much less than adults, when they do drink, they tend to drink much, much more. As a consequence, the alcohol does not only affect teenagers socially (dramatically increasing the risks of violence, vandalism, unprotected sex and injuries), but also physically, on a much higher level than it would affect a grown adult. For example, you may not quite realise how important your hippocampus is until it has been permanently affected by your binge-drinking as a teenager, and you can no longer remember your friend’s phone number. Similarly, you probably won’t notice the importance of your medulla until you’ve drank yourself silly and you’re lying in bed with hypothermia.
So what can be done to tackle underage drinking? Do we raise the legal drinking age to 21, or would that cause even more rebellion? Do we prevent adverts and packaging aimed at younger audience, or would that just make the temptation even stronger? Whatever we do, we have to do it fast. Underage drinking is a growing problem in the UK, and it certainly doesn’t show any signs of slowing down anytime soon!