Where Do You Fit In?

Seventeen-year-old Jenna works with people who are old enough to buy alcohol. Sometimes they encourage her to go out drinking after work, even when she reminds them that she’s underage.

“No big deal. You could borrow my old fake ID,” suggested a co-worker one evening, “We look a lot alike.”

Jenna refused politely since she wasn’t interested in the bar scene. But later, she began to wonder if she should go out just once, in order to fit in with her co-workers.

You’ve probably seen lots of statistics on teens and alcohol. Some researchers say 80% of high school age youth have tried it. 

Plus, you’re bombarded with messages every day from the media making it look as if most teens engage in regular drinking. Movies, television, song lyrics, and even social media, often glamorize alcohol consumption and present underage drinking as a normal way for young people to relax and have fun. YouTube videos of wild college parties, for example, promote the party school mentality by showing excessive drinking and outrageous behavior as the norm on large campuses.

The Real In-Crowd

If you don’t go out on the weekends and drink, you might feel as if you’re not fitting in. On the contrary. Just because a majority of teens have tried alcohol, that doesn’t mean they all drink regularly. If you look at the statistics in a positive light, you’ll see that you’re actually in the majority if you don’t drink alcohol, says Tammy Granger, Corporate Director of the Student Assistance Program of Caron Treatment Centers. 

Granger quotes statistics from a 2013 survey which showed, for example, that 74% of 10th graders and nearly 90% of 8th graders had not used alcohol in the previous month. If you’re not consuming alcohol, then, you’re making the more popular choice. If that’s you, consider yourself part of the real in-crowd!

Even if you’ve already decided that you won’t get caught up in the drinking culture, others might question you about your choice. If you have logical reasons and you know the facts, you’ll be better prepared to stick to your resolve. You might even convince someone else to join your non-drinking group!

Teens and Alcohol Don’t Mix!

You probably already know many of the facts about alcohol consumption.  But, just in case you’re a bit rusty, let’s review….

  • Impact on Your Developing Brain

Even when your body is fully developed, your brain continues to mature, probably well into your 20’s, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Drinking heavily during this stage of life, many researchers believe, might stunt your brain development permanently, with the potential to affect your memory, motor skills, and coordination.

  • Possible Addiction Ahead! 

Just because you drink alcohol, doesn’t mean you’ll develop a dependency on it.  But when you begin drinking in the early teen years, you will be four times more likely to become dependent than someone who doesn’t drink until adulthood. “Addiction develops much more rapidly in teens,” Granger explains. “Adolescents can progress from use to dependence in a matter of two to three years while the same progression might take adults five to ten years.”

Why would you automatically increase your risk of addiction? Delay its use as long as possible, says Granger, and give yourself the best chance of avoiding addiction later in life.

  • Living in Slow Motion/Impacted React Times

Remember that alcohol is actually a depressant, a drug which slows your body’s processes. Alcohol impairs your reflexes and your ability to make judgments, often leading to accidents, injuries, and risky behavior. 

Drinking and driving, of course, is the classic example. Inexperience on the road coupled with the impairing effects of alcohol makes driving a dangerous activity. A 2012 U.S. Department of Transportation report tells us that 22% of young drivers (ages 15 – 20) killed in car accidents had been drinking. You’re also more likely to forego your seatbelt when tipsy, which makes driving even more dangerous.

  • Losing Your Self-Respect

Imagine you’re having a drink and you’ve got that pleasant buzz. You’re so relaxed that you just keep right on drinking…until you find yourself doing and saying some pretty crazy things. Somehow you’ve lost control. When you wake up the next morning, you cringe with embarrassment at the thought of your behavior.

“I know alcohol can make you act in ways you normally wouldn’t,” says Anna, a thoughtful, 21-year-old college senior.  Although she’s had plenty of opportunities to try alcohol, she’s never made that choice,  “I just don’t like the idea of drinking something and then not being myself.”

  • Impairs Your Choice-Making Ability

The relaxing effect of alcohol causes a loss of inhibition, which might draw you out of your shell just a little too much.  Ridiculous behavior is one thing, but much worse are the unplanned sexual encounters that often result from teen drinking. The effects of alcohol may leave you vulnerable and unable to resist sexual assault (read our article, The Ins and Outs of Sexual Consent to learn more). Such encounters may lead to unplanned pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases.

  • Wasted, Smashed, Sloshed…and Big Trouble

Teens themselves admit that, most of the time, they don’t even like the taste of alcohol. For many, it isn’t about the taste, explained hosts for a recent episode of Teen Talk Radio. More often, young people drink specifically to get drunk. Whether they think they’ll have more fun, just want to fit in, or like the feel of getting “smashed,” teens who drink alcohol often drink to excess.

Getting wasted might be fun at the moment, but don’t forget about your hangover the next day. Nausea, vomiting, pounding headache, inability to concentrate, dizziness….Sound like fun? Not so much!

Even when alcohol consumption isn’t an everyday affair, teen drinking sessions often turn into binge drinking. Raychelle Lohmann, writing for Psychology Today, notes that binge drinking is defined for females as four or more drinks on a single occasion and for males, five or more in one sitting. Such dangerous over-indulgence can lead to alcohol poisoning, coma—even death. In the long run, too much alcohol can also damage your liver and heart. 

  • Time in the Drunk Tank

Underage drinking is against the law. Period. So, if for no other reason, consider the legal consequences before consuming alcohol. Although you’ll find people who think your age doesn’t matter, as Jenna did, your age is a big deal. In the end, anyone under 21 who consumes alcohol breaks the law.

You might also find young people who think the possibility of getting caught and arrested isn’t a big deal either. If so, refer them to Kenny, who found himself too drunk to drive one night. He thought everything would be fine if he asked his friend to drive him home. On the way, Kenny got sick, so he had his friend pull over. While they were on the roadside, a policeman stopped, checked their ID’s and gave them both the breath test. As it turned out, Kenny’s friend had also been drinking and they were both arrested, “Spending that one night in jail taught me a lesson I will never forget,” says Kenny, “It was a pretty awful experience that I don’t want to repeat.”

The next really important part is that you know how to resist the pressure. 

Advice for Saying No

Peer pressure. It’s almost a cliché, isn’t it? You want to fit in, to be popular, to please your friends and to have fun with them. And if you have friends who begin drinking, they’ll likely pressure you to join them.

Josh, a level-headed 16-year-old, has never tried alcohol, but admits he might try drinking with his buddies if he were depressed or extremely stressed out. When might you be tempted to give in?

Maybe you need a few ideas for keeping yourself in that non-drinking majority or for helping a friend say no to alcohol. Consider the following advice.

  • Don’t put yourself in bad situations. When Maggie attends a party, she drives herself. If there’s alcohol, she doesn’t partake. She drives herself home at the end of the evening and never considers spending the night.
  • Think ahead. Imagine scenarios and role-play various situations in which alcohol might be served, suggests Granger. What will you say? What will you do? Practicing your reactions increases your chances of making a good choice, she explains.
  • Know what you are going to say. What will you say when you’re offered a beer? How about a simple, “No thanks”? If your friends push the issue, perhaps you need new friends. Maybe you’d be more comfortable asking for a cola. Or, try giving a specific explanation. If you’re an athlete, for example, point out that alcohol affects your training. You could try complete honesty: “I can’t stand the taste,” or “I tried it once and it made me really sick.” Or offer a reason based on your future: “I have a big performance tomorrow” or “I’d rather keep my mind sharp for the upcoming ACT.”
  • Blame your parents or your coach. The experts with Nemours Foundation suggest blaming your parents or another adult. “My dad would ground me for months if he caught me!” “Coach might kick me off the team if he finds out.”
  • Avoid certain circumstances. Make alternate plans if you suspect alcohol may be present at a party or other event. Decide at what point you’ll leave, and make sure you’ll have transportation. Call your parents or arrange a cab ride if you must. Perhaps you and a friend can decide ahead of time what else you can do in case you do leave. Maybe you’ll go to the pizza place or to a movie.

Anna’s glad she chose not to participate in the underage drinking culture, “I don’t think drinking alcohol is necessarily bad for adults who drink responsibly, but it’s not for me right now,” she says, and she doesn’t plan to indulge in drinking any time soon, “I’m pretty happy with my life the way it is, so why would I change it?”

Remember, says Granger, a majority of young people don’t drink alcohol. Determine to be part of that crowd. You’ll probably find yourself fitting in just fine.

Written by Beth W. Prassel-Sieg

©Copyright 2014 / Good Choices Good Life, Inc. / All Rights Reserved

Good habits formed at youth make all of the difference in life. Aristotle