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How Social Media Influences Teen Alcohol Use

03 Agos 2016 
More teens use alcohol than smoke cigarettes or marijuana, making alcohol the most used drug by young people. Young people begin to drink, on average, between age 13 and 16. Ninety five percent of the alcohol consumed by underage drinkers is consumed through binge drinking; defined as five or more drinks per drinking occasion. Under age drinkers and young adults age 21-25 have the highest rates of binge drinking. Under age drinking accounts for 12% to 20% of the US alcohol market; over 3.6 billion drinks each year. Young people who start drinking before age 15 are five times more likely to develop alcohol abuse or dependence than those who wait until they are 21.

In addition to the severe short term and lifelong consequences that an individual teen can have as a result of under age drinking, there are costs to society and there are innocent victims harmed by under age drinkers. Research now confirms that the adolescent brain is not fully developed until about age 20 and that heavy alcohol use affects brain development; impairing judgment, planning, decision making, memory, attention and spatial operations. The cost to society in terms of under age drinking and driving and other risky behaviors associated with drinking, and violent crimes is about $50 billion each year.

While alcohol related motor vehicle fatalities have decreased, most fatalities involve under age drinkers. In 2000 only 7% of drivers were under age, yet 13% of alcohol related motor vehicle fatalities involved under age drivers who were drinking. Young people who are drinking are less likely to wear a seat belt and more likely to get in a car with a drunk driver. Alcohol was involved in 36% of homicides and 10% of suicides involving people under age 21 in 2000. Homicide is the second leading cause of death for 15-24 year olds. Individuals under age 21 commit 45% of rapes, 44% of robberies and 37% of other assaults. Alcohol is involved in 50% of violent crimes. More than 70,000 students aged 18-24 are victims of alcohol related sexual assault or date rape.

While the media doesn't directly cause a young person to develop a problem with alcohol, it exerts a significant influence at a time when parental influence is least and decision making and impulse control is worst. The consequences are severe and long lasting. The earlier a person begins to drink, the more severe their alcohol problems are likely to be. Media influence is powerful enough to tip the scales for someone who is already vulnerable to developing alcohol related problems, and is powerful enough to influence someone who otherwise has minimal risk into engaging in risky behaviors with lifelong consequences.

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Julio 2016
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