What Is Alcohol Abuse?

Due to subject matter, this video may contain images some viewers find disturbing.

Springfield High School: Kyle, Gage, and Shane
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SPEAKER 1: How many times a month do you deal with drugs? SPEAKER 2: Probably about four or five times a month I deal with somebody that either has drugs or is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. SPEAKER 1: [indecipherable] SPEAKER 2: I’d say I get sent about two kids a week suspected of using drugs or alcohol. SPEAKER 1: [indecipherable] SPEAKER 2: Marijuana is still probably the most popular of the main drugs. But also we’re seeing an increase in prescription drug use. We’ve dealt with “bath salts” and all the hardcore drugs, too. Calls for people abusing Coricidin tablets. But marijuana is still the number-one drug.

Alcohol has been part of human society for thousands of years. Alcohol is used during times of joy, such as a wedding celebration. It is also used during times of sadness, for example, when mourning a death. It is used as part of social rituals that bring people together—family dinnertime at home, a meal at a restaurant with friends, a business lunch to seal a deal. It is used to stimulate social interaction, such as at clubs and bars where people go to dance and meet other people. It is used to relax after a long day at work, and to wash away many of the stresses of daily living.

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), four out of ten high school seniors reported drinking some alcohol within the past month, and more than one in five reported binge drinking within the past two weeks. Alcohol use is so common that it is easy to forget that alcohol is a drug—a very dangerous drug.

In the United States and Canada, alcohol is the most commonly used drug; it is also the most commonly abused. According to HHS, about one in four children younger than eighteen years old is exposed to alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence in the family.

When a person abuses a substance, it means that he or she uses it improperly. There are right ways and wrong ways to use alcohol. Binge drinking—or drinking more than four or five drinks during a single occasion—is one of the wrong ways.

Underage Drinking

Drinking illegally, before you turn the legal age to drink, is another wrong way to use alcohol. In the United States, it is illegal for anyone under age twenty-one to buy or consume alcohol. In Canada, the drinking age is eighteen or nineteen, varying by province or territory. In spite of the law, people under the legal drinking age find ways to obtain alcohol. Often, underage drinkers consume alcohol not for social rituals but for a single purpose: to get drunk. About 10 million American teens between the ages of twelve and twenty use alcohol, even though it’s illegal for them to do so. Maybe you drink alcohol, too. If you drink regularly, you will need more and more alcohol to feel drunk on a single occasion. This means you are at risk of becoming a binge drinker.

Because it’s illegal, underage drinking is usually done in secret. This can lead to isolation; drug dependency; trouble at home, school, and work; or life-altering conditions resulting from accidents or alcohol poisoning. According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, alcohol is involved as a factor in the three leading causes of teenage death: accidents, homicide, and suicide.

Think about that. The top three things that cause teens to die are related to alcohol in some way. So it’s not as simple as just getting drunk—illegally or otherwise. And it’s clearly not that easy to control. Each year, alcohol abuse contributes heavily to traffic fatalities and to domestic violence. Of course, it also causes alcoholism, a disease that affects millions of Americans and Canadians. Alcohol abuse is often a factor in criminal behavior and in unplanned or unwanted sexual activity. Some of this sexual activity accounts for the dramatic spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among teens.

There is some good news, however. In 2012, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that the number of teens who drink and drive has dropped by more than half since 1991. According to the CDC, the decline is due to “all states raising the minimum drinking age to 21, the implementation of stricter zero-tolerance laws (it is illegal in every state for anyone under age 21 to drive with any amount of alcohol in their system) and to the adoption of so-called graduated drivers license (GDL) laws, which limit the hours teens can legally drive at night or whether they’re allowed to take passengers.”