Underage drinking statistics continue to rise globally, but what does that tell us about the responsibility of these young consumers?

By Judah Newby

Welcome to 2014, a time where young people all over the world are consuming alcohol at historically high rates.  In the small chance that you have not heard of underage drinking as a social reality, no worry.  This is also a time where you can see for yourself how recreational use of alcohol among young people not only can be condoned, but celebrated and turned into a type of game among its consumers.

The issue of underage consumption of alcohol has been around for a long time, especially where it concerns American youth.  The numbers that show alcohol’s detrimental effects are shocking when it comes to the young people of America: according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD), 5,000 people under the age of 21 die as a result of underage drinking each year.  The alcohol-related deaths range from motor vehicle crashes to homicides and suicides, even drowning accidents.

Among the many tests and research, statistics deriving from drinking among both American and European youth continue to rise at alarming rates.

In addition to these statistics, there exists a perception that the problem of proper alcohol consumption is more of an issue among American youth than it is in other places throughout the globe.  This has led to one of the more popular assertions that youth in Europe, for instance, are more capable of responsibly consuming alcohol than are the youth in America.

How is this the case?

In order to arrive at that conclusion, one must assume a couple of things about European youth:  One, that they are, in fact, responsible consumers of alcohol to begin with; and Two, that they are more adept to properly engage alcoholic beverages in a healthy and safe manner than are American youth, especially American teenagers.

Drinking ages are lower in nearly every European country than they are in the United States.  Also, many families from across the Atlantic regularly share alcohol with one another during ordinary meals, even with those who are underage, with no apparent consequences, health or otherwise.  Partner that with the annual numbers that reflect the devastating effect alcohol has on Americans who engage in underage drinking, and this notion of a greater maturity in European youths gains significant traction and becomes more natural to accept.

However, information released by the Parents Translational Center (a partnership between the website drugfree.org and the Treatment Research Institute) has specifically set out to debunk a handful of alcohol-related myths, including the aforementioned statement above.  In response to the notion that kids from European cultures who receive alcohol from their parents at an early age are more responsible drinkers than American kids, the PTC reports that greater percentages of European youth not only consume alcohol more regularly than Americans, but more of them are also intoxicated before their thirteenth birthdays than youth in the U.S.  The same study cites research confirming that across the world, underage drinking significantly increases the likelihood of alcohol-related injury and alcohol-dependence later in life, regardless of location.  In short, these numbers do not support Europe’s responsibility with alcohol, but rather the opposite.

The NCADD furthered the discussion even more by using annual survey data to answer the question if young people in Europe drink less alcohol and experience fewer alcohol-related problems than young people in the United States.  They found three specific answers to their study: One, that a larger percentage of youth from almost every country in Europe report to drinking in the past 30 days than did American youth; Two, most of those same European countries feature a greater percentage of youth which report having consumed 5 or more drinks in a row than did American youth; and three, a majority of European countries have higher intoxication rates in their young people than does America.

The NCADD uses this study to accomplish the purpose of proving the necessity of the U.S. minimum drinking laws, but they secondarily also prove the fallacious nature of the notion of European maturity among youth as related to alcohol consumption.

To help further awareness and safety in their base country of America, the NCADD has also produced a “Fact Sheet of Underage Drinking” on their website.  Ironically enough, the awareness sheet costs $12.50 to purchase.

When it comes to something as serious as underage drinking, the goal is not about proving which country and continent is better or worse at protecting their youth than the other. The statistics shape the reality, which is underage consumption of alcohol is rampant anywhere one may look.  It will not be solved by pointing fingers, but by continuing to take measures serious and severe enough to match the severity of the devastating effects themselves.