Young People Ask . . .
Can Drinking Really Get Me Hooked?
IT ALL started when Jerome was only nine years old. “I sampled some leftover drinks from a party held at home, got drunk, and liked the way I felt,” he explains. Buying, hiding, and drinking alcohol soon became Jerome’s daily routine. Yet, he admits: “I didn’t know I had a problem until I was 17. When others were having breakfast, I was downing a half pint [1/4 L] of vodka!”
Alcohol use and abuse are growing at an alarming rate among young people the world over. In the United States alone, over ten million—one half—of America’s 13- to 18-year-old students have had at least one drink in the past year. About eight million drink on a weekly basis. In fact, U.S. teenagers drink over a billion cans of beer and more than 300 million bottles of wine coolers, a carbonated wine drink, a year!
The Bible says regarding alcoholic drink: “Everyone going astray by it is not wise.” (Proverbs 20:1) Yet, millions of youths, like Jerome, are being led astray by alcohol. What are the dangers of alcohol abuse? How can you tell if you are getting hooked?
Alcohol and Alcoholism
When packaged as a brightly colored wine cooler or a frothy beer, alcohol looks pretty harmless. Taste and appearances can be deceiving, however. Alcohol is a drug—a powerful one.
Doctors say that alcohol is a depressant that affects the brain, acting on the central nervous system. Taken in modest amounts by an adult, it may create a harmless, pleasant effect. “Wine . . . makes the heart of mortal man rejoice,” says Psalm 104:15. However, too heavy a dose of alcohol can cause intoxication—a state in which physical and mental control is markedly impaired. Like Jerome, a person may be hooked, crossing the fine line from wanting a drink to needing or craving one. Why does this happen? The body can develop a tolerance for alcohol if it is overused. The user must then drink increasingly larger amounts in order to experience its effects. Before he realizes it, though, he is hooked. Once a person is hooked, his life is altered tragically. Nearly five million U.S. youths have a drinking problem.
Why They Drink
In the 1930’s the average U.S. teenager sampled his first alcoholic drink at about age 18. Today, he does so before age 13. Some start even younger. “I was six years old, . . . and I sipped a little beer out of my grandfather’s glass. . . . I was so light-headed!” Thus recalls Carlotta—a recovering alcoholic. The earlier you start, the more likely you are to get hooked.
Of course, peers often exert considerable pressure along these lines. But sometimes parents also share some blame. Some overindulge themselves, use alcohol as an emotional crutch, or even brag about how much liquor they can hold. A booklet on alcoholism says: “Children who become responsible adult drinkers tend to come from families where alcohol is treated matter-of-factly and unemotionally . . . , where drinking has its proper place.”*
Television is another potent influence on youths. By age 18 the average American youth has seen 75,000 drinking scenes on TV—11 a day. Slick advertisements, carefully crafted to make drinking seem like the doorway to fun and romance, portray sexy models drinking in rowdy party settings. Alcoholic beverages are given fruit flavors and catchy product names. The ads work. Every weekend, 454,000 youths in the United States go on drinking binges, prompting the U.S. surgeon general to say that many of them are “already alcoholics, and the rest may well be on their way.”
Some youths, though, are driven to drink by internal turmoil. Kim revealed why she guzzled beer: “I used [alcohol] to change my mood and make me feel better about myself.” If a youth is shy or suffers from low self-esteem, drinking may seem an attractive solution. Yet others drink to block out some painful realities of life, such as parental abuse or neglect. Why did Ana begin drinking? “I never got the affection that I needed.”
Whatever the reason for getting started, in time a youth may find it increasingly difficult to control his drinking. At that point he may find himself face-to-face with alcoholism. Have you begun drinking? Then take the quiz entitled “Since You Began to Drink.” You may find the results to be quite revealing.
Alcohol—Dangerous for Youths!
“Those staying a long time with the wine” are warned by the Bible that “at its end it . . . secretes poison just like a viper.” (Proverbs 23:29-32) Venom injected by a poisonous snake can slowly and painfully injure or kill a man. (Compare Acts 28:3, 6.) Likewise, prolonged and heavy abuse of alcohol can slowly kill you. It can damage or destroy vital organs, such as your liver, pancreas, brain, and heart. Developing young bodies and minds are particularly vulnerable to such damage, which is sometimes irreparable.
Alcohol abuse can be even more damaging to your emotions than to your body. A drink may temporarily boost your confidence. But the confidence it gives you is phony—and the effects always wear off. In the meantime you retard your emotional and mental growth. Instead of sobering up and facing reality, you reach for another drink. But after being sober for 11 months, 18-year-old Peter says: “I’m having to learn how to face my feelings and find new ways to cope with situations booze got me through before. I figure that emotionally and socially I’m about thirteen years old.”
Then there are the dangers of drinking and driving. Alcohol-related highway death is the number one killer of young people in the United States. Drinking is also associated with homicides, suicides, and drownings—the other leading causes of death for youths.
Furthermore, alcohol abuse can have devastating effects on your family life, friendships, schoolwork, and spirituality. Here’s the way the Bible puts it: “Show me someone who drinks too much, . . . and I will show you someone miserable and sorry for himself, always causing trouble and always complaining. His eyes are bloodshot, and he has bruises that could have been avoided. . . . You will feel as if you were out on the ocean, seasick, swinging high up in the rigging of a tossing ship.” (Proverbs 23:29-34, Today’s English Version) This is a side of drinking that is never shown in glamorous TV ads.
Why Get Started?
Many countries therefore restrict youths from drinking alcohol. If you are a Christian, you have a compelling reason to obey these laws, as God commands you to be in “subjection to the superior authorities.” (Romans 13:1, 2) Even if the use of alcohol among youths is lawful due to local culture, is it really in your best interests to start drinking at this time in your life? As 1 Corinthians 6:12 says, “all things are lawful . . . ; but not all things are advantageous.” Are you really ready to handle alcoholic beverages?
True, when peers offer you a colorful wine cooler, it may be tempting to see how it tastes. Realize, though, that you are being offered a potentially addictive drug. Godly youths in Bible times, such as Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, had the courage to stand up to the Babylonian authorities and turn down the defiling foods and wine that were allotted to them by the pagan king of Babylon. You too can have the courage to say no!—Daniel 1:3-17.
In time you will be old enough—legally, mentally, emotionally, and physically—to drink alcohol if that is your choice. Even so, you will be wise to exercise moderation and avoid getting hooked. Many youths have already become hooked, and a future article will discuss what they can do to recover.
In some cultures youths are commonly allowed to drink alcoholic beverages with meals. Even so, parents are wise to give serious thought as to what is best for their children and not allow popular custom to guide all their decisions.
[Box on page 24]
SINCE YOU BEGAN TO DRINK:
□ Do you have different or fewer friends?
□ Is life at home more difficult?
□ Do you have trouble sleeping, or do you feel depressed or anxious?
□ Do you need a drink to feel at ease around others?
□ Are you unhappy or disappointed in yourself after drinking?
□ Do you lie about or hide the fact that you drink?
□ Do you get embarrassed or angry when someone brings up your drinking habits?
□ Has anyone ever counseled you or joked about your use of alcohol?
□ Do you believe that wine coolers and beer are OK for you to drink because they are not hard liquor?
□ Have you lost interest in or dropped hobbies and sports you once enjoyed?
If you have answered yes to more than two questions, it may indicate that you have a serious drinking problem. If so, you would be wise to seek help immediately.
Source: THE REGENT HOSPITAL, New York, NY.
[Picture on page 23]
Many alcoholics developed drinking problems at an early age