Teenage drinking is not a new problem, but what is becoming a cause for concern is the fact that so many individuals are developing health problems in their twenties and thirties which used to afflict hard-drinking men in their fifties. In most European countries there tends to be a healthy attitude towards consuming alcohol, as it is generally served during mealtimes and people don’t drink to get drunk, unlike in the United Kingdom. In the U.K. it is illegal for individuals under the age of 18 to purchase alcohol, and yet teenagers still manage to get hold of it, congregating in parks and bus shelters to get drunk. There must be powerful driving factors that lead teenagers to drink, since they don’t seem to be deterred from drinking by the thought that they are damaging their health.
What exactly is encouraging young people to drink, then? Drinking to get drunk seems to be an ingrained part of British culture so that adults spend their Friday and Saturday nights in pubs and clubs, making the most of special offers to drink as much as possible within a short space of time. Perhaps alcohol is used to overcome British reserve, and people generally do find that they feel more comfortable in social situations if they have had a drink. Whether or not alcohol is used to counter British reserve teenagers are quick to pick up on the idea that it is acceptable to binge drink, even though there have been a number of government initiatives to discourage it, particularly amongst teenagers.
However, telling teenagers not to do something only makes it more appealing, and because they want to be treated as adults they don’t see why they shouldn’t be allowed to drink when everybody else is. Indeed, even within their own peer group it can be difficult to resist the pressure to drink. When teenagers go to a party or just hang out with their friends, it can be hard to say no when a bottle of vodka is being passed around.
There is usually a good chance that alcohol will be available when they meet up with their friends, even if they are too young to legally buy it. In the U.K. it is not unusual for supermarkets to sell alcohol as a loss leader to encourage people to shop there, thus making drink affordable for most teenagers. It would seem that either adults are buying alcohol for teenagers or those selling alcohol are not checking that the individuals buying it are of legal drinking age.
There are clearly a number of reasons behind teenage drinking, from the availability of alcohol and cultural influences to boredom, rebellion and peer pressure. It is important to tackle these issues as teenagers under the influence of alcohol are more likely to make rash decisions that can end up affecting the rest of their life, particularly when it comes to their health. Teenage drinking might not be a new problem, but the extent to which it happens seems to have increased to a dangerous new level.