Message to Youth
As New Year’s quickly approaches, I certainly have a different set of plans then my old “where am I going to get shitfaced this year?” Plan of attack. This year I intend on watching fireworks with my 2 year old (early) and then promptly putting him to bed. This will probably be followed by watching some idiot do a countdown on TV if I even make it to midnight. As this “holiday” arrives I also worry, I worry about all of the teenagers that have become near and dear to me and if my story has influenced them in a positive way. I worry that they will be out having a good time while also making some bad decisions that could alter the course of their lives.
As a teenager, there were many times when I felt a certain amount of pressure to drink alcohol. It may have been that all my friends were doing it and they seemed to be having a good time. Or it may have simply been me not wanting to be left out at the parties that I went to that revolved around drinking. Getting involved with alcohol is simply part of growing up, but for some, like myself, it can quickly become a serious problem. I cannot pinpoint a specific reason that kids start drinking but a main factor in my opinion is purely to be accepted. It may begin with simple curiosity or a desire to fit in with what your friends are doing, or it may begin because someone in your family drinks heavily and you simply want to emulate them. For some, this is nothing more than a passing phase, but for others it is a rite of passage and simply becomes a part of their social life and for some, alcohol can become a serious problem. The best way to ensure that you do not fall into this category is to be aware of the pressure and the dangers of alcohol.
When I was younger I thought that I was strong enough to push peer pressure aside, but in reality, as I look back, peer pressure was everywhere and I was far from immune to it. Being a boy and being incredibly competitive, trying to outperform each other at every possible opportunity was a lifestyle. Drinking games were very common, and I believe help to foster the impression that drinking alcohol is not a serious matter. When teenagers are unable to drink legally, overindulging in private before heading out to party was a common theme. I think the youngsters like to call it, “pre-drinking”. Those of you who are unaware of this brilliant idea, it is typically when a group of people drink a ton of booze to get their “buzz” on before heading out for the night. This makes for a tough spot to be in as a teenager if you do not want to drink. If everyone else is doing it, it makes it extremely hard to resist joining them. This is a tough situation to look back on because the only way to avoid situations like this is to not spend time with people who are going to get involved in such activities. Even writing that sounds pretty idiotic and is a bit harsh but there may not be another option if there is constant pressure from these people. If there is a real concern about drinking and fear there may be a problem, this is a truly honest way to protect yourself.
There is a social stigma surrounding anyone that chooses not to drink. Society as a whole celebrates and idolizes people who drink, and this can often add to pressures already there when it comes to alcohol. I say screw that stigma and screw anyone that judges anyone else that chooses not to drink. Part of being your own person means making decisions based on what is best for you, taking ownership and responsibility for what you do and how you think. It’s pretty normal to want to be part of a group and feel like you belong but if you don’t want to drink, or have that one more, you shouldn’t have to. It’s important you feel confident and happy about that.
Alcohol is widely available, socially accepted and legal for those 21 and up. These factors combine to make the chance of anyone becoming an alcoholic far higher than you might initially think. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, around half of all underage Americans have used alcohol. In addition, around two million people aged between 12 and 20 would consider themselves heavy drinkers. A further 4.4 million in the same age range are classified as binge drinkers. Drinking during adolescence is one of the risk factors for developing alcoholism. The more you know about the dangers alcohol can present, the better positioned you are to protect yourself. A survey of more than 40,000 adults found that of those who began drinking before the age of 14, nearly half had become dependent on alcohol by the age of 21. For those who began drinking at or after the age of 21, only nine percent developed alcoholism.
I understand the possibility that most teenagers will try alcohol at a party, at home, or at a friend’s house. My ultimate goal is to encourage teens to not use alcohol but I am realistic about it. I want teenagers to understand that if they do drink they should under no circumstances drive or get in the car with someone who has also is under the influence. I encourage them to call for a ride with no questions asked. I assure you that any punishment received at home is far less than what could happen. Don’t be scared to call someone in these situations as safety is what’s most important.
If you're finding yourself drinking too much or feeling like you have to drink, don’t be afraid to reach out. Have a happy and safe New Year’s. See you in 2016!