The theme of Alcohol Awareness Month
for 2014 is “Help for Today, Hope for Tomorrow,” targeting underage drinking as a major public health issue. The intent is to raise public awareness, reduce stigma, and encourage dialogue about alcoholism and alcohol-related issues, emphasizing the need for intervention, treatment and recovery support.
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD), has designated April as Alcohol Awareness Month since 1987. Concern about underage drinking and its short- and long-term consequences is widespread, because alcohol is the number one drug of choice for people between the ages of 12 and 20, who drink 11 percent of all the alcohol consumed in the United States.
More than 90 percent of this consumption occurs in episodes of binge drinking, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
What Is The Definition Of Binge Drinking?
Binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more drinks on the same occasion within a couple of hours for men and four or more drinks for women. Heavy drinking is defined as binge drinking on five or more days within the past 30 days.
Annual per capita consumption of Ethanol – pure alcohol – in 2011 was 2.28 gallons, according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Excessive alcohol consumption accounts for an average of 88,000 deaths and 2.5 million years of potential life lost for people of all ages in the U.S. every year.
Binge drinking is responsible for over 50 percent of these deaths and two-thirds of the years of life lost, the CDC says. Use of alcohol by teens has declined over the past two decades, however.
According to NCADD:
- Each day, 7,000 people under the age of 16 in the U.S. take their first drink
- Those who begin drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to become alcoholics than those who start drinking at the age of 21
- Twenty-five percent of children in the U.S. are exposed to drinking disorders in their family
Short-term Risks Of Underage Drinking
The immediate risks of underage drinking are serious. More than 6,500 people under the age of 21 die every year from alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents, homicide, suicide, alcohol poisoning, falls, burns or drowning. Car crashes account for almost 2,000 of those deaths. Underage drinking also results in a little less than 200,000 hospital emergency department visits each year.
Other Risks Of Underage Drinking
Youths who drink are also susceptible to poor decision-making (including driving while impaired and risky sexual activity); physical and sexual assault; and school, social and legal problems. Alcohol consumption also affects the development of the brain, and can influence hormonal changes in teenagers, as well as interfering with growth.
Ongoing drinking can lead to physiological reactions, including mental health problems such as depression or anxiety disorders. Continued heavy use of alcohol can also increase the risk of developing cirrhosis of the liver, pancreatitis, stroke and some forms of cancer later in life.
Prevalence Of Underage Drinking
Despite the fact that is illegal for people under the age of 21 to purchase alcohol, 69 percent of students in Grade 12 have tried alcohol, and about four out of 10 are “current drinkers,” meaning that they had consumed alcohol within the previous 30 days, according to the University of Michigan’s annual Monitoring the Future survey of high school students. The most recent survey also showed that 30 percent of students in 8th grade had tried alcohol.
In 2012, an estimated 9.3 million people between the ages of 12 and 20 reported drinking in the past month, and 5.9 million were binge drinkers. An estimated 889,000 who were between the ages of 12 and 17 needed treatment for an alcohol abuse problem, but only 76,000 received treatment at a specialty facility.
How Much Do High School Students Drink?
Fifty-four percent of high school seniors reported having been drunk at least once in their lives, compared to 35 percent of 10th graders and 13 percent of 8th graders. Four out of 10 seniors are “current drinkers,” meaning that they had consumed alcohol in the 30 days before the survey.
Incidents of heavy drinking in at least one episode in the two weeks prior to the survey were reported by 24 percent of students in grade 12, 16 percent of students in grade 10, and five percent of students in grade 8. The most recent survey indicates that 27 percent of male high school seniors consumed five drinks in a row in a drinking binge, compared to 20 percent of females. This gender gap has been declining steadily since 1975, when there was a 23-point difference.
High school seniors headed to college report less heavy drinking than their peers, but apparently they catch up to and surpass them after graduation.
Drinking Among Adults
About four percent (roughly 8 million people) of the U.S. adult population meet the criteria for alcohol dependence, according to the NIAAA. Those in the 18-24 age group are the most likely to have alcohol dependency.
About one in six adults in the U.S. (roughly 38 million people) engages in binge drinking, according to CDC data. Consumption of alcohol peaks among young adults, particularly those in the 21-25 age group, whether or not they are in college, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
Of people in that age group, 69.2 percent reported having used alcohol in the past month, 45.1 percent reported binge drinking, and 14.4 percent were heavy alcohol users. Adults between the ages of 26 and 29 had the second-highest rates of consumption of alcohol in all age categories.
About 17 percent of college undergraduates who no longer live at home report drinking more alcohol than their peers who are not enrolled in college, and 12.5 percent report more heavy drinking and binge drinking. The Monitoring the Future survey says that 14 percent of college students reported having consumed 10 or more drinks on a single occasion in the previous two weeks, and five percent reported consuming 15 or more drinks.
Children of alcoholics and children with alcoholics in their family are anywhere from four to 10 times more likely to become alcoholics than children with no close relatives who have drinking problems.
Among young adults between the ages of 18 and 25, the rate of alcohol dependence or abuse is estimated at 14.3 percent, according to NSDUH data. Among adults 26 or older, the rate is about six percent. People who drink excessively can become dependent and addicted to alcohol as their bodies build up tolerance, requiring greater quantities to achieve the desired effect.
Alcoholism is a disease, and recovery is an ongoing journey. Abuse of or addiction to alcohol is harmful to physical, emotional and mental health. When a person stops drinking, the withdrawal process is uncomfortable, and can even be life-threatening.
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