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Alcohol: Teens Perspective On Why They Drink

Alcohol%3A+Teens+Perspective+On+Why+They+Drink
Zaheer Baksh Photograpy;Zaheer Baksh

Despite what the law may say, teenagers do in fact consume alcohol. It would be very difficult to find any high school community in the United States where 0% of the student body consumes alcohol. That being said, there is a reason underage drinking laws are in place. Alcohol can be dangerous, especially in the hands of minors, which is why it is so important to look at our own school community to see how this topic affects us.

One SSSAS freshman shared her experience of drinking. She said that she started drinking at 13 years old with her friends. “My friends wanted to, and I was like, ‘why not?’ which was how it all started. Recounting her first time, she said she felt pressured by one friend to have a drink. Mentioning this friend, the anonymous source states “Because she really wanted to be cool for all the other girls that went to other schools that did it and so I kinda got dragged into that.” 

While she only had one drink under pressure, she said, “I think it would have been nice to start a little bit later…It’s not ideal but it’s not the worst” because of less alcohol consumption and more time for her body to mature. She said she drinks for “big events,” which include Halloween, Winter Formal, New Year’s, and Homecoming.

Similarly, one senior interviewee, Chris Shorter, who doesn’t drink, echoed those statements about underage drinking environments. When asked where seniors usually drink, he said, “I think the typical environment for drinking alcohol is parties that happen after formal school events.” 

He briefly spoke about his feeling of being a non-drinker in such an alcohol-centric environment. “Being in a drinking environment, as a non-drinker is sometimes awkward. I’ve never been pressured to drink by anyone at these parties, but everyone seems to think I’m missing out on something by not drinking.” Although he said he has never experienced overt peer pressure, there is an almost implied belief that he should be drinking to be accepted in that environment. 

Similarly, the female anonymous student has never peer pressured someone to drink. She said that “it’s their choice” and they should be able to do whatever is good for them.” 

Divorced from the legality of the issue, this source also said that they think it’s safe for them to drink before 21. She said, “Because I think I am a very mature person and I would never do something that was stupid or put me and my other people in danger. […] I trust myself and I trust my instincts and I trust that I will make the right decision”. She wants to get used to drinking alcohol before going to college where that behavior is expected in many cases.

 

However, Chris also said that in his view, the legal drinking age should not be lowered. The anonymous senior from before echoed the sentiment, remarking, “I don’t think it should be lowered because if someone actually wants it they can easily get it even if they’re under 21.” This lack of enforcement was a shared observation through most of the interviews we conducted.

He also said, “I think about 50% of our grade drinks alcohol.” We asked this question to both Chris and an anonymous Senior who uses alcohol “every weekend” and received notably different answers. The student who uses alcohol estimated that 70% of the senior class uses alcohol, a significant increase from Chris’ estimation.

Finally, going back to the anonymous female, she said that she will never overdose on alcohol and drinks mindfully. While it doesn’t take her long to get drunk, she “knows her limit and when she feels uncomfortable….. she will stop.” However, her “biggest regrets” were under the influence. Additionally, the anonymous senior repeated something similar to this saying that the key to safe drinking was “knowing your limit.” There is a repeated belief in several of these interviews that drinking safely is almost a skill, and something that you need to practice at to get better at.

When we sent out a google form to the student body about their thoughts on student alcohol consumption, we received intriguing results. 10.3% of the responses said they believed the vast majority of their grade drank, 19% said they thought around ¾ of their grade drank, 24.1% said that they thought around ½ of their grade drank, and 29.3% said they believed ¼ of their grade drank. 

Many people that drink stated that functions, hangouts, parties, and special occasions are where they consume alcohol on a usual basis. The results from the poll show the wide variety of student’s use of alcohol. Some don’t drink or drink very occasionally, and many drink every week and weekend.

The results from the poll also show that people drink because they think it’s fun, cool, an escape from school and stress, and for comfort and for social reasons. One response said, “It’s fun. It’s a time you can be not judged and it’s a medium that kinda bonds everyone at a party, like the one thing they have in common in that moment is a drink in their hand or how drunk they are,” but another perspective wrote, “I think most people our age drink because of a social pressure to do so to fit in with others and live that stereotypical teenage life.” 

We also wanted to know if students ever asked teachers questions or had concerns about drinking. An interview with Ms. McGuire, the dean of the students at SSSAS, said “I have certainly had students who had expressed concerns maybe about individual students.” When she responded to a question about the school’s involvement in beach week, she wanted to make the school’s involvement (or lack thereof) very clear: “We have nothing to do with that as a school and I make that really clear when parents ask.” 

When asked about house parties she said, “There are times where a rumor will be going around about a party at someone’s house, and if I’ve heard something I will approach the student to tell them that it’s out and about that they are planning to have this party. At times I have also had to call parents.”

To compare the drinking environment at SSSAS with other schools, we have spoken with one local source, an anonymous freshman from Woodberry Forest School, who recounts his experiences drinking. 

During a hangout with a couple of friends in 8th grade, he drank for the first time. He said he felt pressured to drink by his friends. Going into the experience, he said, “I knew I was only going to have a sip,” and he wasn’t planning on getting drunk that night. “I was a little bit nervous but not enough to not drink.” 

According to him, his friends and family normalized teen drinking. He said that they started around 16 or 17, so he was already subconsciously approving of drinking when he was in an alcohol environment.

 “It seemed normal because everyone else was doing it,” but looking back on the experience, the student said that it was not natural to start that early. Through this experience of being influenced to drink, he doesn’t promote or pressure people around him to drink “because it is their choice.” He said he doesn’t really care if someone drinks or not, and doesn’t affect him.

This anonymous source also states that he tries to get drunk purposefully with his friends. Yet, when asked if he thinks he is a healthy drinker, he said yes. His justification came from the rarity of his drinking due to boarding school drinking rules and him saying he would never drive drunk.

The student also said that the only consequence of drinking is getting caught and stated that drinking doesn’t create any negative consequences on the body or mind. Despite getting drunk, he comments “How I’m doing it, probably not” when being asked if an overdose will be a problem in the future.

When he is drinking, he said that his emotions do not connect to how much he drinks. Whether he is down or upset, he will still drink the same amount with his friends and plans to continue drinking because nothing has gone wrong for him. 

Although we have seen how this issue impacts people on both a school and local level, we have yet to examine the influence that underage alcohol consumption has nationally. 

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “The Alcohol-Related Disease Impact application estimates that each year there are more than 140,000 deaths (approximately 97,000 male deaths and 43,000 female deaths), attributable to excessive alcohol use.” Although this is not a specific underage drinking statistic, it does provide a good baseline for alcohol’s overall impact nationally.

The same source released a study in 2022, which stated approximately 646,000 youth ages 12 to 20 reported binge drinking 5 or more days over the past month.” This is a little more specific to the youth of America and shows that irresponsible youth drinking is still affecting big chunks of people across state lines.

Both of these numbers serve to show that this is a problem that affects large swaths of our population (specifically young people). It is a serious issue on a national level with potential negative consequences for people of all ages, all across the nation. 

Despite those national numbers being seemingly very large, it is much lower than it was in previous years. It is being seen that underage drinking is becoming less common across the board. Responsibility.org, an organization dedicated to educating people about the dangers of alcohol, does a yearly survey to find statistics about underage drinking.

In 2022, they found a 76% proportional decrease in 8th grade consumption of alcohol, and found similar levels of decrease among other teenagers. Although the issue is still prevalent, nationally and at SSSAS, data suggests that underage drinking is on the decline.

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About the Contributor
Luke Rapallo, Staff Writer
Luke is a junior who is excited to start his third year on The Voice. He enjoys politics, movies, football, and basketball. He is very interested in writing and studying the art of making films. He hopes to one day work in that field. He has been attending SSSAS since sixth grade and is excited to continue writing for The Voice.

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