Academic journal article Alcohol Research

The Scope of the Problem

Academic journal article Alcohol Research

The Scope of the Problem

Article excerpt

Alcohol is the drug of choice among youth, often with devastating consequences. Alcohol is a leading contributor to injury death, the main cause of death for people under age 21. Drinking early in life also is associated with an increased risk of developing an alcohol use disorder at some time during the life span. Data consistently indicate that rates of drinking and alcohol-related problems are highest among White and American Indian or Alaska Native youth, followed by Hispanic youth, African Americans, and Asians. Prevalence rates of drinking for boys and girls are similar in the younger age groups; among older adolescents, however, more boys than girls engage in frequent and heavy drinking, and boys show higher rates of drinking problems. This article summarizes research on the epidemiology of youth drinking, including the consequences of youthful drinking, risk and protective factors and drinking trajectories, and information on special populations at particular risk for drinking-related problems. KEY WORDS: underage drinking; adolescent; survey; AODU (alcohol and other drug use) pattern; binge drinking; AOD (alcohol and other drug) induced risk; risk and protective factors; alcohol and other drug related (AODR) consequences; AODR injury; epidemiology; special populations; children of alcoholics; undergraduate student; military; ethnic group; gender differences

OVERVIEW

National surveys make it clear that alcohol drinking among youth is both widespread and harmful. Surveys provide data not only on the numbers of middle and high school students who drink but also on how they drink. The data show that when youth drink, they drink heavily in comparison with adults, consuming on average four to five drinks per occasion about five times a month, compared with two to three drinks per occasion about nine times a month for adults. Studies also find that drinking often begins at very young ages; a recent survey found that more than one-fourth of 14-year-olds reported drinking within the last year.

The negative consequences of underage drinking include a range of physical, academic, and social problems. Perhaps most frightening, alcohol is the leading contributor to injury death, the main cause of death for people under age 21. However, alcohol also plays a powerful role in risky sexual behavior, including unwanted, unintended, and unprotected sexual activity, and sex with multiple partners. Alcohol is associated with academic failure and drug use. Over the longer term, data have shown that drinking early in life is associated with an increased risk of developing an alcohol use disorder at some time during the life span.

Although almost all U.S. youth grow up in a culture permeated by alcohol, they are not uniformly at risk for alcohol consumption or its consequences. Epidemiology provides clues to risk and protective factors associated with youth drinking, including family history and genetic vulnerability, comorbid conditions, sociodemographic characteristics, social stressors such as poverty and lack of social support, family characteristics, alcohol availability, temperament, and other individual factors. Epidemiology also provides a profile of how specific populations of young people differ in their drinking patterns. Drinking, including heavy drinking, is common and accepted among college students, with consequences affecting both those who do the drinking and those who do not. Rates of heavy drinking among 18- to 25-year-olds in the military are much higher than among civilians. There is considerable variation between Whites and other ethnic/racial minority youth with respect to drinking, but also significant variation within these populations. Research is needed to determine how national origin, tribal affiliation, acculturation, immigration status, and language all influence drinking patterns among youth.

EPIDEMIOLOGY OF UNDERAGE DRINKING

Alcohol is the drug of choice among youth. …

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