Youth Culture Window

Teens and Adult Beverages

Dynamic ImageAlcohol has left its mark on teenagers from every generation including this one: legal troubles to scars to tombstones. Today’s teenagers could have the fewest incidences which is certainly good news.

But research says there’s also much work to do.

Mixed Drinks Is a Mixed Bag
In mid May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data they’d analyzed from Youth Risk Behavior Surveys from the past two-and-a-half decades. For the most part, it’s relatively good news. For example, underage drinking has declined significantly from 1991 (when 51% of teens did it) to 2015 (when just 33% of teens did the same). Likewise, in 1991, 31% of teens admitted to binge drinking – defined as consuming 5 or more drinks in a row within the past 30 days – while only 18% of teens did so in 2015.

However, that silver-lined cloud also has a dark underbelly.

At the very least, there are several million teenagers who struggle with alcohol use (and abuse)…or as CNN puts it, 1-in-6 teens binge drink. Furthermore, between 2006 and 2010, roughly 4,300 young people lost their lives in alcohol-related deaths, and in 2010 alone, underage drinking cost our nation $24.3 billion!

Even more “sobering,” when Pediatrics weighed in on the same findings, not only did they outline the dangers of “frequent heavy drinking” (binge drinking) – namely, higher likelihood of unprotected sex, more physical altercations, lower school/work performance, relational problems with parents, and an increased risk of alcohol abuse later in life, – they also noted that the decline in frequent heavy drinking for female students, African-American students, and students from lower income households was markedly slower.

Dr. Robert Brewer sums up the mix of good news and bad news when he says, “We have made some progress from a public health standpoint in reducing current and binge drinking among high school students, but we still have a lot of work to do.”

And we haven’t even talked about teenagers getting behind the wheel after knocking back a few….

If the reminder about the dangers stemming from teens’ use of alcohol wasn’t sufficiently alarming, AAA also wants us to remember that we’re now in the 100 deadliest days for teen drivers. Yep, statistically speaking, the 3+ months following Memorial Day weekend – a.k.a., summer – usually leads to an uptick in the number of accidents that befall young drivers. In the past 5 years, this 100 day period has seen more than 5,000 people killed in crashes involving young drivers. (But it isn’t like teenagers require a certain “season” to be dangerous behind the wheel; they can be lethal year round as I pointed out in a recent article.)

Maintaining Momentum
We can all agree that the decline in alcohol use and abuse is a great trend. But because we can also agree that even one tragic loss is one too many…we should all agree that now is not the time to become complacent. Parents and youth workers are superbly poised to make sure this positive momentum continues. Here are a couple quick and simple ideas:


  1. Make teenagers aware of consequences. Many towns have “that one place” where local law enforcement agents park mangled cars with an accompanying sign that reads “Don’t Drink and Drive.” That can certainly be an eye-opening and jaw-dropping lesson, but you don’t have to go “doomsday” on your teenagers to make your point. Within the last two weeks, I discovered that one of my former students had been arrested on DUI charges while at college near the turn of the year. As his father walked me through the list of consequences stemming from his son’s actions, it was tough to keep up: steep financial fine, loss of drivers license, community service, dismissal from school, mandatory counseling…and you don’t even want to know about his new auto insurance rates. I’m not saying it’s too severe – after all, someone could have died – but I didn’t know half of this about DUIs in my state. Take the time to walk your kids through the respective laws in your state.
  2. Model the example you want them to follow. While it’s not a guarantee they’ll mimic your behaviors, it’s a strategy that literally cannot hurt. Take a long, hard, honest look at your own alcohol practices to see if it’s a standard you want your children to follow. Even if you’re well within the lines of “moderation,” consider the message you might be sending your impressionable teenagers when you have a beer (or two) at the restaurant before getting behind the wheel to drive your family home.

Alcohol has marked the lives of millions of teenagers. What will you do to make sure the teenagers in your life aren’t among the statistics?

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David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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