Alcohol-Impaired Driving

   As one might expect, the exhaustion of alcohol is common around teenagers in this day in age, despite the legality of it. There has been constant talk of whether the legal drinking age limit in the United States should be maintained at 21 or lowered to 18, like many of the other countries around the world. Once a teenager hits the 18-year old mark, they are exposed to a world of seemingly unlimited possibilities: they are eligible to enlist in the military and can buy cigarettes and lottery cards, so why are they unable to drink, right? Well, by lowering the drinking age, adolescents are more at risk of putting their lives in danger. Underage drinking may result in alcohol-impaired driving, sexual assault, a decrease in their school performance, and ultimately, alcohol dependence later on in their life. There are a number of reasons as to why the limit should be lowered, but there are just as many stating why it should remain the same.

Alcohol-Impaired Driving

Driving under the influence is one of the biggest leading causes of death, and a large percentage of accidents are caused by underage drivers. For most, hitting 15 and 16 years old means getting a car, and being so excited to finally be out on the road on their own. Being 15 and 16, they are also just entering high school and wanting nothing more but to fit in with what they deem as being the “right crowd,” also known as the more popular kids in school. High school is the time for experimenting, as most would say, and what other way to “experience” anything than by going to parties. It is no secret that with parties comes drinking. Drinking impairs the drivers ability to focus, which can inhibit the ability to drive.

High school students and underage drivers as a whole are more likely to find themselves involved in fatal accidents with alcohol in their system. A blog written by Lindsay Williams states that the CDC reported 2.4 million high school teenagers drive intoxicated each month (Williams, The Dangers of Underage Drinking and Driving). Adolescents are 17% more likely to get into fatal car accidents, the article says. Young drivers tend to have higher risks of getting into these accidents because most are new drivers, so by adding alcohol to the mix, it increases the dangerousness. In the U.S., there is zero tolerance for underage drinking, so when high schoolers get into accidents, they will suffer great consequences.

In another article, it was noted that younger drivers are more susceptible to getting into accidents with any amount of alcohol in their system (Brande, Underage DUIs: 6 Sobering Facts About Drunk Driving). It is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to consume alcohol or they will receive a DUI, regardless of their blood alcohol concentration (BAC). The CDC wrote in an article that 1 in 5 teen drivers involved in fatal accidents had alcohol in their system and sometimes it has gone beyond that of the legal limit for adults (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Teen Drinking and Driving). Along with impairing drivers on the road, intoxication among the youth may put them at risk of sexual assault.

Risks of Sexual Assault

High levels of intoxication can lead to physical impairment along with cognitive impairment, resulting in adolescents making poor choices without realizing it. Underage drinking can lead to a greater risk of sexual assault and puts them at risk of obtaining sexually transmitted diseases. A study conducted by Amy Young showed that alcohol was involved in 12-20% of sexual assault cases. (Amy Young, Alcohol-related Sexual Assault Victimization Among Adolescents: Prevalence, Characteristics, and Correlates).

As adolescents are exposed to alcohol at such young ages, they are more likely to engage in sexual activities, putting themselves at a greater risk. They are more likely to have STDs. Jasmine Bittar wrote in an article, The Relationship Between Alcohol and STDs, that excessive consumption of alcohol lessens the strength of an individual’s immune system and makes it easier for them to catch an STD (Bittar, The Relationship Between Alcohol and STDs). Increased sexual activity beginning from a young age can result in the chances of unwanted pregnancy. In Effects and Consequences of Underage Drinking, the author states that teenagers who get a headstart on drinking are more likely to have unprotected sex which can ultimately result in unexpected and/or unwanted pregnancies (Hanes, pg 5). These challenges can cause further issues, such as a decrease in school performance.

School Performance

Binge drinking damages the minds of teenagers, harming their levels of performance in school. When students become wrapped up in all the late-night adventures and parties that come with the “fun” part of high school, they lose sight of what is really important: their education. Adolescents begin to worry less about attending school or doing homework. The amount of alcohol consumed by an adolescent has effects on whether they decide to go to college or not.

Excessive alcohol consumption can transform the natural structure of the still-developing brain (The Effects of Alcohol Use on Academic Achievement in High School). Alcohol slows the part of the brain responsible for critical thinking, and with inordinate amounts of it, young people especially begin to lose interest in everyday responsibilities such as their schoolwork. Too much alcohol over a long period of time can lessen the ability of teens to focus or study. The frontal lobe is the area of the brain known as the “control panel,” responsible for critical thinking skills that are essentially needed when it comes to striving academically. When exposed to alcohol it alters the chemistry in the brain, lowering the strength of the “control panel,” causing individuals to make irrational decisions wherever they are. It minimizes the ability to focus, thus affecting school performance greatly (Hylton, The Effects of Alcohol on Academic Performance). Drinking in high school is, more times than not, associated with the peers teenagers hang around during school hours. The peers in school can directly impact the likelihood of others beginning to experiment drinking alcohol because they believe it is considered to be cool. Students who drink more often tend to be the same people who have poor grades. A lot of this has to do with the kinds of people they associate themselves with (Hanes, pg 4). Studies show adolescents that drink are more likely to have alcohol dependency issues later in life.

Alcohol Dependence

People who begin drinking alcohol early on, have higher chances of becoming dependent on it when they are older. Studies show that people who began drinking before age 21 were significantly more dependent on alcohol than those who waited until they officially turned 21 to drink. 47% of teens who began drinking before age 14 became dependent at some point versus the 9% of people who struggled with dependency even when they waited until 21 years or older (NIAA, Early Drinking Linked to Higher Lifetime Alcoholism Risk). Alcohol is a dangerous depressant that not many are aware of, although it is used constantly. It has the same effects as that of any other kind of depressant drug; it slows down an individual’s performance and leaves them incoherent at times. It is one of the most common types of drug and people can easily become addicted without having realized it.

Teenagers especially, are more vulnerable to binge drinking because they have not yet fully developed that decision-making part of their brain, that helps differentiate right from wrong (AddictionCenter.com, Widespread Underage Drinking). People, old or young, drink because it gives them a sense of pleasure. Sometimes, this pleasure helps fill a void that might have been left for whatever reason, whether it be because of a breakup or just another bump in the road called life. Binge drinking gives adolescents a sense of pleasure because they feel they are more grown-up and have control over their lives, causing them to forget the long term effects it can have.

Researchers found that adolescents who began drinking before age 15 were 50% more likely to be dependent on alcohol by the time they reached adulthood (T, Early Drinking Age Linked to Risk of Alcoholism). It has also been noted that alcohol may, in fact, be a gateway drug to other more life-threatening drugs (The Recovery Village, Is Alcohol Used As a Gateway Drug?). It is important that the youth recognize the continuing consequences that come with underage drinking.

While drinking alcohol may be fun and ‘everyone does it,’ it can have many serious repercussions. Many people do not realize that alcohol is just as bad a drug as other addictive drugs. What makes it so addictive is the pleasure it brings people everywhere, not just adolescents. Alcohol-impaired driving by underage drivers is a problem that is one of the top causes of fatal accidents in the U.S.

Driving under the influence is one of the key reasons as to why it is so important that the legal age limit remain 21. Another serious risk of underage drinking is the increased chance of engaging in risky sexual behavior, which can lead to unsought outcomes, such as pregnancy or STDs. An impaired mind is the perfect recipe for disaster; the parties involved are often not sober enough to form coherent thoughts, not fully processing what they are doing, putting themselves in what can turn into a dangerous situation. Peer pressure plays a big role in inspiring vulnerable teenagers to experiment whenever they are given the chance. It can damage the minds of teenagers, making them feel as though they do not need to put as much effort into their schoolwork as they might have done before. There is also a higher likelihood of teenagers who began drinking early to become alcohol dependent well into their adult life.

Alcohol in the United States is the most popular form of drug abuse. It is important that the legal age remain 21, to help prevent adolescents from drinking illegally, as often as they do. If the necessary precautions are being met, it will ensure a further attempt at keeping the future generations safe from the backlash that underage drinking may bring.  

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