Teens and Alcohol


We’ve seen it in the media: news footage and reports of drunken brawls and comatose men and women slumped in the gutters. We hear of alcohol-fuelled violence and we pity the parents of young people dead in mangled cars. Alcohol is a wrecker.

Alcohol is at the heart of one- to two-thirds of domestic violence and antisocial behaviour. We could go on at length about the devastating effects of alcohol consumption—how it destroys health, families and sometimes, life itself. Instead, let’s look at the more sinister effects it can have on younger, less-seasoned drinkers, and how a night of fun can so easily turn into a nightmare.

The story is all too common: she had never drunk before. It was just a bit of harmless experimentation. Out with friends, the only plan was to keep drinking until she felt something. She didn’t realise that the full effects of the alcohol wouldn’t kick in until 45 minutes after her first drink, so by the time she felt she’d had enough, alcohol would continue flooding her already overloaded bloodstream for some time.

That was when he made his move. He’d calculated it quite carefully. He needed to be sure that her natural inhibitions would be compromised—probably about half a dozen drinks—then he’d try to seduce her.

He waited until after midnight to strike. Afterwards, she didn’t even know what happened, her mind blank about the night out. It came back to her in bits and pieces, though, but too ashamed to tell her parents, she took a morning-after pill and pretended it didn’t happen. She did wonder about her friends, though. Why hadn’t they intervened? Were they part of it? And for some, Who was the guy, anyway?

A fictional situation? Sadly, not so. Younger, inexperienced girls, keen to be accepted, are unaware or incredulous that getting a girl drunk is simply a pathway to sex for some men.

Here is the problem:

Alcohol diminishes cognitive response. When girls are intoxicated, they miss or ignore cues that would otherwise have warned them of danger ahead. Add to this the problem that alcohol causes a slow and ineffective response to an unwanted sexual encounter, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Here are some facts:

  • Alcohol is the number one drug used to facilitate a sexual assault.
  • Many teenagers have unsafe and unintended sex after the consumption of too much alcohol, leading to unplanned pregnancies and the spreading of sexually transmitted infections.
  • According to a 2012 Girlfriend magazine survey, 47 per cent of sexually active girls had sex while under the influence of alcohol. As many as 30 per cent of these encounters were with complete strangers.

As such, and regardless of any moral position you hold, this is not good. So where do we start in addressing this situation?

We need a holistic approach that includes education; we need to have “the conversation.” We need to talk with young people about the dangers of alcohol and where it fits in their world view and values. As hard as it might be for you to imagine your young son or daughter, or a friend, becoming dangerously intoxicated, it is possible, perhaps even probable. After all, the pressure to conform along with curiosity are powerful motivators that can lead to poor decisions.

Talking to your teen might seem uncomfortable at first, but you can use lead-ins. Look for articles in the newspaper that cover the situation you want to explore. Have them read, then openly discuss the content. Be open to their opinions too. With teens, you can’t just say, “. . . because I say so.” They want to know why.

Help them understand that boundaries bring freedom and that a Yes always has a No. Keep it light. It isn’t necessary for them to agree with you before they leave the room. Give them time to reflect on what you’ve said. These are their lives and they want to live them the way they choose. However, you can guide them and help them to avoid the pitfalls. If something does go wrong, especially in a case of sexual assault, being judgemental isn’t helpful. Rather, seek professional, even legal counsel, for a resolution.

In a society awash with alcohol, it can feel overwhelming, but we can help young people we care about to make better decisions. And those decisions will be important steps to avoiding serious consequences. So begin by openly talking to the young people in your care today.

When Talking To Your Teen About Alcohol

Make sure the teenager knows that you’re on his or her side, that you love him or her, and you want the best for him or her.

Discuss an article, advertisement or news story. explore the dangers of alcohol consumption.

Try to identify what in the teenager’s world view makes drinking a “good” option. is it a social expectation? is the teenager escaping other issues? Simply listen and see if you can discover what factors underlie the choice to drink.

Suggest places and activities that are fun, yet don’t involve alcohol

Explain why you think drinking alcohol is not wise, including the social and health implications.

Ask other significant adults to reinforce the same message that you are giving.

If alcohol is already destroying the teenager you care about, seek professional help for both of you.

Amanda Bews’ book, Heaven Sent (Signs Publishing, 2013), addresses issues of teenagers and alcohol. To download a discussion guide or to find out more, click here.

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