However, research tells a different story. I'm not about to argue for the legalization of marijuana, that isn't the message I'm attempting to convey. Rather, I'd like to illustrate how alcohol is actually the gateway drug, and how we as a society seem to be okay with alcohol's harmful and often deadly consequences.
A recent study found that teens who abused alcohol are twice as likely to abuse prescription opiate drugs than those who only used marijuana. This is an important statistic because prescription drug abuse and overdoses are skyrocketing across the country. Opiate drug overdoses kill more Americans yearly than cocaine and heroin overdoses combined.
Alcohol research tends to focus on underage/teen use. In a recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 25% of 8th graders, 40% of 10th graders, and 53% of 12th graders reported drinking alcohol in the last month. If this isn't alarming enough, the study dug deeper and found that 79% of teens drank because it felt good, 67% to forget their problems, and 66% because of peer pressure. For me, these responses allude to underlying mental health concerns like poor self-esteem, deficits in coping skills, depression, anxiety, and loneliness.
Makes sense, right? Adolescence is tough for teens and parents. Teens are dealing with social and academic pressures, identity issues, and navigating the world of independence. So what's the excuse for adults? Over 35,000 adults die each year from dependent and non-dependent use of alcohol (CDC). When including unintentional deaths, homicides, and other indirectly related deaths, the 35,000 number more than doubles. According to the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence (NCADD), alcohol plays a role in approximately 40% of all violent crimes in a given year. That equates to almost 4,000 violent crimes per day.
Most feedback from adults for reasons to drink ironically sound very similar to teen responses: for fun, to relax and forget about problems/stress, and because of social expectations. The problem here is the more you drink, the worse you think. Over time, social drinking can evolve into an addiction and into your preferred coping mechanism for stress or any issue.
So what is really being said when a teen is told that they can't drink until the arbitrary age of 21? You aren't old enough to handle the responsibility of drinking at this time, wait a few years. The problem is that millions of adults show time and again that they can't handle the responsibility either. Research repeatedly shows that most people use alcohol as a coping mechanism, as a way to avoid real life issues.
At a societal level, it seems there is a hint of “oh, he's been drinking, that explains it,” to justify behavior. It is almost as if alcohol is being blamed, taking away the responsibility from the individual.
There needs to be a shift in the alcohol dialogue. There needs to be more honesty and courage. Alcohol needs to be talked about for what it is, an unhealthy coping mechanism for many that kills tens of thousands every year. The statistics don't lie. Maybe “happy hour” should be renamed “ignore your problems hour".
As usual, feel free to share this post via facebook, twitter, etc. Comments are welcomed!
If you are interested in being notified of future posts, you can “like” The Family Center of Knoxville facebook group by clicking here. You can also follow me on twitter here. Thanks for your support!