The following essay was written for a scholarship application. The research done shows the effects of underage drinking among teenagers.
by: Sarah Lambeth
Movies and TV shows that portray teenage activities often include parties, underage drinking, and illicit activities. These stereotypical activities often “glamorize” or “idealize” these dangerous activities that teens often feel they need to participate in to receive the “teenage experience” (Maxwell, 2002; Villarosa et al, 2015). Statistics show that the “rate of alcohol consumption increases with increasing age with 1% of 12-13 year olds, 17% at ages 16-17, and 32% among 18-20 year olds” (Stats on Teen Alcohol Use, 2022). Disturbingly, a study conducted in 2022 at Columbia University found 75% of surveyed teens felt encouraged to drink alcohol from peers posting on social media at parties (The Orlando Recovery Center, 2022). Similarly, many studies have associated an individual’s drinking behavior with that of their friends, especially in children and teenagers who are already more at risk to peer influence (Ivaniushina V., Titkova V., 2021; Maxwell 2002; Villarosa 2015). To further understand this phenomenon, many studies have been performed to identify correlations between the dangers of peer pressure and drinking or at-school substance abuse.
Mentioned previously, the drinking behaviors and patterns of others’ has an increasing impact on the drinking habits of their friends or peers; two processes that relate to this issue are social influence and social selection (Ivaniushina V., Titkova V., 2021). Social influence is the way individuals change their behavior to match their environment or the people around them. Social selection is when people make friends who have similar behaviors, patterns, or habits as them. Many studies have been performed to investigate the effects of peer influence and selection on alcohol use behaviors. For example, one study by Villarosa et al, in 2015 found that of 562 undergraduate students who self-reported social anxiety, resistance to peer influence, and amount of alcohol consumed, there was a significant correlation between social anxiety and alcohol consumption (Villarosa et al, 2015).
However, studies like that of Villarosa are often prone to bias as many use self-reported and qualitative outcomes. To provide more information, Ivaniushina and Titkova conducted a systematic review (detailed and comprehensive plan) and meta-analysis (study to assess the results of previous research to derive conclusions) of adolescent drinking behavior. Instead of using patient and public involvement, their research was based on an analysis of previously published studies. The results found “the selection effect and influence effect are significant, which indicated that adolescents prefer to select friends who are similar to them with regards to alcohol consumption, and then adolescents adjust their drinking behavior to match their friends’ behavior” (Ivaniushina V., Titkova V., 2021). However, peer-pressure is more frequent than we believe and is only highlighted in media outlets when it is too late and results in an unfortunate death or other consequences.
Countless reports and news articles have reported on the incidents and dangers surrounding peer pressure and underage substance abuse. In fact, peer pressure is not limited to any one group, it is often found that even the students with straight A’s, significant popularity amongst their peers, and high community standing fall victim to this danger. For example, in 1997 in Orlando Park, Illinois, 16-year-old high school student Elizabeth Wakulich fell victim to a deadly dare involving peer pressure and alcohol. Friends of Wakulich described her as brave and as someone who“wouldn’t back down from anything… she wouldn’t do anything that was dangerous” (Rubin, B., Taylor, S., 1997). At a Saturday night party, someone dared Wakulich to finish a quart of 107-proof Goldschlager (cinnamon schnapps) at around 2 a.m. After chugging the quart, she fell asleep at a friend’s house. Around 1 p.m. on Monday, a friend noticed she was unresponsive and called the authorities (Rubin, B., Taylor, S., 1997). Wakulich was later pronounced dead at Palos Community Hospital, where her blood-alcohol level was 0.381 percent; this was 24 hours after she took the bet and consumed the liquor (Rubin, B., Taylor, S., 1997). The Cook County medical examiner believes when Wakulich drank the alcohol at 2 a.m. her blood alcohol level was around 0.600 percent, while alcohol becomes deadly in the 0.400 to 0.500 range (Rubin, B., Taylor, S., 1997). Wakulich’s deadly experience with peer pressure is not a one-time occurance; Even more recently, in Raleigh, North Carolina, a student attended a party, consumed alcohol, and died after leaving the party under the influence of alcohol (Chambers, S., Lamb, A., 2015; Willett, R., 2018). Unfortunately, many students do not realize how quickly peer pressure and consuming alcohol can escalate and lead to significant and deadly consequences.
Underage drinking and peer-pressure surrounding alcohol consumption can be deadly. Most students have been told the dangers of underage drinking; we have been told it can increase bad decisions, health problems, or ruin our futures (NC Department of Public Safety, n.d.). However, hearing these negative implications do not stop students from participating in these illicit activities, with nearly two-thirds of students knowing a peer who has tried alcohol (North Carolina ABC Commission, 2014). Underage drinkers do not understand the negative implications and dangers surrounding underage drinking until they hear of the stories from those that thought they were making a safe and conscious decision. Elizabeth Wakulich’s story has power and her story deserves to be remembered and elevated, in the hope that teenagers like her do not make the same fateful decision. One way to reduce the risk of underage drinking is if students hear or otherwise experience these stories that may make the news once and are subsequently forgotten.
Chambers S & Lamb A. (2015, July 14). Raleigh couple charged with providing alcohol to teens say case is ‘discriminatory’. WRAL News. https://www.wral.com/raleigh-couple-charged-with-providing-alcohol-to-teen-prior-to-fatal-crash-say-case-is-discriminatory-/14771618/.
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Willett R (2018, March 3). Mother of victim gives emotional testimony during underage drinking trial. The News & Observer. https://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/counties/wake-county/article29115262.html.