Teens walk the fine line of social drinking

Nov. 16, 2001, midnight | By Julia Druhan | 17 years, 9 months ago

Where only first names appear, names have been changed to protect the identities of the sources.

On a regular Saturday night, senior Assfau Ali can usually be found throwing back a couple of beers at a party with his friends. Not because he needs the alcohol or because he likes the taste, but because it's there. And because, he says, after 11 or 12 beers, he feels like he can let loose and have a good time.

Ali does not think of his behavior as alcohol abuse and considers himself to be a social, not a heavy, drinker. "I don't drink alone, and it's not like I need to drink everyday, but when it's there I drink. I don't need alcohol to have fun," he says.

Ali consumes more then five drinks every weekend, an amount that constitutes binge drinking, according to the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (NCADI). Binge drinking in high school often leads to similar behavior in college and can be associated with mental health disorders such as compulsiveness, depression or anxiety, according to NCADI.

Like Ali, most binge drinkers don't consider themselves to be addicted, even when drinking is a weekly occurrence, according to Mary Rea, a spokesperson for Drawing the Line on Underage Alcohol Abuse. "People don't have a good feel for how much they are drinking, so even when it becomes a serious problem they can't admit it because they may not even remember," she says.

Jared, a senior who no longer drinks but who used to drink every weekend since his freshman year, feels that although he was drinking heavily, he was not abusing alcohol. "I didn't need it, and we didn't drink just to get drunk. I don't think I was addicted because I only drank with my friends to enhance our party experience," he says.

Beatrice Edner, associate director of Quality Improvement and Psychiatric Services at the American Psychiatric Association, disagrees with Jared's reasoning. "Where you drink is not as important as how much and how often. If you're drinking excessively every weekend, it becomes a problem," she says. "Social drinking can almost always be classified as alcohol abuse."

Edner feels that most teens use the term social drinking to justify behavior that they know is wrong. "Defining social drinking is a slippery slope because it is a vague term. A lot of kids use it as permission to do something bad. They feel that if they're just social drinkers, they're not really putting themselves at risk, which is incredibly far from the truth," she says.

While many other teens may share Jared's sentiments, Edner counters that alcohol abuse is linked to behaviors that are anything but controlled or responsible. According to Edner, alcohol is involved in two-thirds of all sexual assaults and is a frequent factor in the three leading causes of death for 18-24 year-olds—car accidents, homicide and suicide.

Frequent teen drinking can also be linked to serious conditions, such as alcoholism, later in life. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), young people who begin drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to develop an alcohol dependence problem.

In a recent study done by NIAAA, 40 percent of people who began drinking by age 15 became alcohol-dependent. Only 10 percent of those who began drinking at 21 or 22 did the same. In a Silver Chips poll of 100 students conducted on Oct 24, 75 percent of Blazers who said they drink more then twice a month also said they began drinking before the age of 15.

Jared says that he stopped drinking because of the consequences he met the morning after. "To be hungover and drinking was interfering with what was really important to me. I also realized how stupid I looked being drunk in the corner while everyone else was having a good time," he says.

Edner feels that although social drinking can lead to serious ramifications with teens, the habit can be controlled before these problems arise. "You don't have to wait for it to become a problem before you think about it," she says.

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Julia Druhan. Julia Druhan is enjoying her second year on newspaper as Chips' Health editor. She has been looking forward to the Silver Chips experience since her sister, a recent Blair graduate, was on staff for two years. Julia won second place in the Montgomery Blair Science ... More »

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