Commentary: The trouble with teen drinking
Feb. 2, 2007
NOTE: A photograph is available at http://umns.umc.org.
A UMNS Commentary By the Rev. Andrew J. Weaver*
A new study says 45 percent of teens report drinking alcohol in the past month, and 64 percent of those students said they were binge drinking (defined as having five or more alcoholic drinks in a row).
The U.S. study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and published in January in Pediatrics, was based on a comprehensive survey of 15,240 students at public and private high schools. It also found that binge drinking is strongly associated with sexual activity, violence and other high-risk behaviors.
When compared to nondrinkers, teen binge drinkers were:
* Four times more likely to be in a physical fight in the past year. * Almost four times more likely to have been raped or subjected to dating violence in the past year. * Four times more likely to have attempted suicide during the past 12 months. * More than five times more likely to have been sexually active with one or more persons during the past three months. * More likely to use marijuana, tobacco, cocaine and/or inhalants.
* More likely to have a poorer academic performance.
Binge drinking also can lead to alcohol poisoning, a serious and sometimes fatal reaction to heavy episodic alcohol consumption in which the brain is deprived of oxygen. As the body attempts to deal with excess alcohol and the lack of oxygen to the brain, it eventually can shut down the respiratory and cardiac functions and result in death.
Underage alcohol use - not just binge drinking - is a significant public health issue. Alcohol is the drug of choice of children and youth, who use it at a higher rate than tobacco or illicit drugs. Forty percent of people who start drinking before age 15 develop alcohol dependence at some time in their lives. Each year approximately 5,000 youth under age 21 die from alcohol-related car accidents, injuries, homicides and suicides. For college students aged 18 to 24, drinking alcohol is a factor in an estimated 1,700 student deaths, 599,000 injuries and 97,000 cases of sexual abuse or date rape annually.
The economic costs of alcohol abuse in the United States are estimated to have increased from $148 billion in 1992 to $184.6 billion in 1998.
How the church can help
Research has shown that stable families lower the risk of alcohol and drug abuse, so church ministries that build up and support the family can be a preventive strategy. A strong youth program that promotes good communication and social skills is valuable as well. Teen alcohol and drug abusers tend to have poor assertiveness skills, high social anxiety and low self-worth. Social skills training can enhance coping, self-control, social problem solving, negotiation skills and assertiveness, as well as increasing the ability to resist peer pressure.
Encouraging teens and their families to be active in the life of the community of faith is in itself an important preventive strategy when addressing substance abuse. Churches are a powerful preventive and healing resource. Youth who practice their faith have more positive social values and caring behaviors and their families are more stable than those who do not practice their religion. Surveys say adolescents who regularly attend church are half as likely to use alcohol as teens who do not attend church regularly.
One U.S. study examined a sample of 13,250 students in grades 7 to 12 and found that, the greater the religious involvement, the less likely a teen will use alcohol, marijuana, amphetamines or depressants. Adolescents involved in faith-based activities are also less likely to have friends who use alcohol or illicit drugs. These findings add to the extensive research supporting the social benefit of nurturing, non-punitive religious observance in limiting and preventing alcohol and drug use.
The church can help people in recovery from alcohol or other addictions by providing space and support for 12-step, self-help groups that offer a spiritually based supportive fellowship. About 9 percent of the adult population reported attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in their lifetime, and 13 percent had attended a 12-step program of some type. These groups can function as caring environments in which members feel safe and secure, offering a natural bridge in the process of reconnecting with the community when alcoholics are tempted to withdraw and isolate themselves.
*Weaver is a United Methodist pastor and a research psychologist living in New York City. The commentary first appeared in Faith In Action, the weekly digest newsletter of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society.
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