Teens are drinking and it’s out of control

| September 6, 2010
By Izabella Little

In spite of all the repercussions, teen drinking continues at an alarming rate.


Alcohol lies at the root of 80-85% of the hundreds of heartbreaking stories shared with the Life Talk™ Forum. Thousands of young lives are being damaged or destroyed by alcohol, and all communities are affected, from the wealthiest to the poorest.

How bad can it be?

Alcohol is a gateway to other drugs and problems, and some of the emails received by the Forum include the following related comments:

  • “We went to a party on Saturday, got trashed, smoked some weed and things got out of control. My friend was raped, another guy got stabbed and I tried Ecstasy for the first time…”
  • “We all got drunk and fooled around, and I let my mates video me having sex. Now everyone’s seen it and my life is over. I can’t go back to school. Please help me…”
  • “My son is at a top school but he’s become aggressive, his marks have dropped, he’s admitted to drinking every day and now he’s smoking hubbly through vodka instead of water.”
  • “I always serve booze at my kid’s parties and it’s been OK, but last night a fight broke out and a boy was badly injured; now everyone says it’s my fault…”

The reality is that adolescents’ alcohol consumption is increasing alarmingly. Parties and social events attended by adolescents aged 13 and up (and younger) very often include alcohol. It is smuggled in, or delivered to the gate, and quite often even blatantly supplied by the parents or hosts. Kids arrive at schools with alcohollaced
juice bottles. Parents report that, if they try to ban alcohol from a party, they’re told that “no-one will come”, that they’re forcing their child to commit “social suicide”, or that “everyone drinks wherever we go, it’s the norm”.

It doesn’t stop with booze

Teens who drink are far more likely to engage in risky behaviour, and are also very vulnerable to being taken advantage of or abused. School counsellors report a distressing increase in such teen alcoholrelated problems, and report other issues on the rise, including declining academic performance and increasing levels of theft.
Some of the effects of reckless alcohol use by teenagers are that:

  • teens lose their inhibitions and engage in sexual activity, which can have lifelong repercussions such as pregnancy or disease
  • alcohol affects decision-making
  • drunken girls are a rape target
  • aggression increases, leading to confrontations and fights
  • health-related side effects, such as decreased fertility may occur
  • teen alcoholism increases
  • drunken driving and fatal traffic accidents happen.

What teens say

With all the known side effects, why is there still so much drinking going on? When our forum questions teens about their reasons for drinking, some of the
responses are likely to be:

  • “Everyone drinks, so it’s no fun to be the only sober one.”
  • “If I don’t drink, my friends make fun of me.”
  • “My parents drink, so why shouldn’t I?”
  • “It gives me confidence. I wouldn’t dream of walking into a club without having a drink first.”
  • “When you drink, you can be yourself and not be judged, because you can blame it on the alcohol.”
  • “It lets me fit in.”
  • “It helps numb my emotions.”
  • “I get bored when I go out and alcohol makes things more interesting.”
  • “In the places we hang out, alcoholic drinks cost the same as cool drinks.”

Some solutions – from teens

Teens have also told us what they’d like to see behaviour-wise from adults:

  • Don’t drink heavily in front of your children from a young age. (If your parents get drunk, it gives you permission to get drunk and, if they reprimand you, they’re being
    hypocritical.)
  • If under-age children/teens come home drunk, punish them.
  • Have family discussions about values and about drinking, and which behaviours are right or wrong.
  • Encourage teens to mix with friends who have similar values.
  • Don’t be afraid to enforce rules and set boundaries. Teens might argue, but ultimately they’ll be better off for it.
  • Talk to teens. Even if they seem uninterested, on some level they’re hearing you.
  • Help teens find places and activities where they can have fun without drinking.

Some solutions – from counsellors

  • Enforce a ‘no booze’ rule at parties.
  • Ensure that all parties that children attend have sound parental supervision.
  • Adhere to clubs’ age restrictions, and remind teens that flouting them could result in a criminal record.
  • Communicate with other parents to avoid being pressured to give in “because everyone else is allowed”.
  • Promote greater awareness among all parents about the realities and risks of the current teenage drinking trends.
  • Always make sure you know where and with whom your children are, and what they’re doing.

If we are to address this threat, it needs to be given far greater priority, exposure and action by government, schools, parents and others. In response, Life Talk has launched a massive awareness-building initiative, called the Life Talk ‘Tug-of-War’. Apart from placing emphasis on current and emerging challenges facing our youth and parents, we focus on solutions, and trigger change where necessary with a view to creating happy, successful and fulfilled youth guided by sound values. Let’s get the
whole of society pulling – join the Tug-of-War today. Encourage everyone to join – and let’s create that great world for our youth!

Izabella Little is author of the Life Talk books and founder of the Life Talk Forum. Contact her at Izabella@lifetalk.co.za or visit www.lifetalk.co.za

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