Effects of Underage Drinking

by Jason Shaw


            Underage drinking is prohibited in most countries, but it is becoming a contemporary issue that affects many young people of the world today. In USA, underage drinking includes drinking by people under the age of 21. The main reason why underage drinking is prominent across the world despite being prohibited by most countries is because there is no vigorous law enforcement rules to curb the problem. However, some minimum-age-laws have significantly reduced the harm caused by under-age drinking. One of the main causes of underage drinking is peer pressure whereby underage people, especially during adolescence influence each other’s behaviour towards increased alcohol uptake. The adolescence stage is an active stage sensation-seeking, attention seeking, and risk taking behaviours which result in adverse outcomes. Alcohol is one of the main causes of such adverse outcomes which include: risky sexual behaviour, violence, injuries, health problems, suicide and homicide.

There are various ways of preventing and responding to underage drinking and its outcomes. One of them is to develop social-norm interventions to reduce harm. This may involves social programs that are aimed at reducing how much and how often underage people drink as opposed to preventing alcohol drinking entirely. Overall consumption of alcohol in the community may also be reduced through change of norms regarding the role of alcohol. Other preventive measures include developing community coalitions against underage drinking, developing multi-faceted approach, understanding and following the law on underage drinking, and reducing the overwhelming engagements with the court system.

Academic knowledge on the social elements and institutions play an important role in the issue of underage drinking. There are various studies that have created academic knowledge on social elements and institutions of both local and global communities. Underage drinking is one of the issues addressed by social elements and institutions. Academic knowledge can therefore help in understanding how underage drinking can be addressed by social elements and institutions of local and global communities. The principles of active citizenship also affect the issue of underage drinking. Active citizenship explains various roles and responsibilities of members of the community on underage drinking.

This research project argues that underage drinking is a serious social issue that causes several social problems among young people, and can be prevented through a multi-faceted and comprehensive approach, community involvement, and effective law enforcements. Academic knowledge and the principles of active citizenship are important in achieving desirable outcomes of underage drinking in the community.

Literature Review

            Several scholars and authors have addressed the issue of underage drinking from both psychological and social perspectives. Various levels of academic knowledge have been utilized to explain the causes, consequences and prevention measures of underage drinking. This part of the research provides a literature review of three scholarly sources covering the topical issue of underage drinking in local and global perspective.

            One of the scholarly sources is the Specific Guides Series paper by Dedel (2010) which shows policing problems in United States. Dedel provides comprehensive information about underage drinking including its causes, consequences and responses/preventive mechanisms. This guide describes the problem of underage drinking in United States as a behaviour characteristic of people below 21 years. Dedel observes that minimum-drinking-age law in USA has been effective in reducing the negative impacts of underage drinking including traffic deaths and injuries, injuries, assaults and other crimes. Most college and high school students are under the age of 21 and they get alcohol for free or cheaply, which increases their alcohol uptake.

            According to Dedel (2010), it is important to understand the problems that contribute to heavy drinking in order to enable policing personnel to enforce effective measures, identify important intervention areas, and develop appropriate responses. According to this guide, alcohol drinking among young people is like a rite passage and a significant behaviour in the lives of adolescent and college students. One of the main reasons why young people drink is because they have developed beliefs of acceptability of underage drinking through the influences of their peers, parents, and other social control agents. Some of the beliefs surrounding underage drinking include: drinking identifies someone to a certain group, reduces tension, helps drinkers to forget their problems, increases their sexual attractiveness, and increases their social confidence. People who have such beliefs are more likely to drink than those who believe that drinking has more negative outcomes. Some college students also drink because they believe that everyone else does, so they will conform to the society by drinking. Young people’s perception of drinking by others influences their underage drinking due to peer pressure. Students tend to overestimate the level of drinking by other students; hence developing heavy drinking habits.

            Young people also access alcohol easily. College students can access many outlets including groceries and convenience stores which sell alcoholic drinks. Dedel (2010) argues that high concentration of alcohol outlets increases the rate of underage drinking, especially in schools. Alcohol outlets provide various attractive incentives that encourage students to drink, including price promotions and special drinks. Lower prices encourage increased alcohol use among young people. Dedel (2010) also suggests that underage drinking occurs in parties in private residences, outdoor venue parties, college campuses, restaurants and bars and special events.

Some of the negative effects of Alcohol suggested by this study guide include overconfidence and recklessness, aggression, lack of awareness, loss of control, drunken driving, disorder in public areas, assaults, rape, vandalism, property damage, noise, injuries, and deaths. Underage drinking is always excessive and may cause young people to act in ways they would consider to be inappropriate under normal circumstances. Underage drinking intoxicates young drinkers and makes them unaware of what is happening around them. This leads to lack of awareness of what is going on around them. Their motor skills may also become impaired, leading to loss of control and aggressiveness.

            Dedel (2010) identifies several responses to underage drinking. One of the responses covers the efforts to reduce overall alcohol consumption in the community. Such efforts include discouraging price promotions on alcoholic drinks, and decreasing the amount and frequency of alcohol sales in outlets and restaurants. Community coalitions can also be developed to bring together various stakeholders who may offer their expertise and involvement to reduce resistance to efforts of reducing underage drinking. The use of comprehensive and multi-faceted approach to minimize underage drinking has also been suggested. Comprehensive approach targets motivations for underage drinking, resultant harms, commercial and social factors, and norms of the community. This entails looking broadly at the entire environment that supports underage drinking behaviour. Understanding and enforcing the law on minimum-age-drinking also reduces underage drinking.

            This scholarly source is a good source that provides comprehensive neutral and well-researched information about underage drinking. The causes, effects and responses suggested by the author provide a good platform for understanding the issue in a broad perspective. The suggestion that multifaceted and comprehensive approach should be used to solve the problem is supported by various social studies. For instance, Problem-Oriented Policing (POP) Center proposes the use of a comprehensive, multifaceted approach of overcoming problems related to underage drinking; including the programs that target college environments where drinking occurs. POP Center (2014) suggests that this approach reduces the level of alcohol consumption by college students. Dedel (2010) also identifies causes and effects of underage drinking which enable readers to think and understand the issue clearly in order to develop appropriate mechanisms of addressing it successfully. This guide is useful to various stakeholders who are affected by underage drinking in one way or another because it mentions causes and effects that touch on various social groups and institutions including commercial groups, schools, and families. It therefore encourages all members of the community to join hands in order to combat the problem of underage drinking.

            This source is also in line with social theories, especially the attachment theory. The study has shown that the norms observed by parents and other caregivers motivate the behavior of students. Furthermore, it suggests that peer influence lead to underage drinking behaviours. This reflects the attachment theory which suggests that young people are attached to certain people including parents and peers and their behaviors are likely to be influenced by the norms and behaviors of such social groups (Riley, 2010). Therefore, the use of a comprehensive approach that includes several members of the community to address underage drinking will solve the problem because it brings together members who are attached to the young people in order to influence their behavior positively (Zhong & Schwartz, 2010).

            The limitation of this study is that it lacks primary research which could integrate primary information from affected members. The secondary research of the study is prone to subjectivity and bias towards specific theories which have not been proven through primary research. However, the available theories and the data provided in the study are sufficient to overcome such biases.

            The second scholarly source is Teenage Drinking Cultures by Andrew Percy, Joanne Wilson, Claire McCartan and Patrick McCrystal. It is a study that examined drinking culture of young people from different friendship groups. Multiple members aged between 18 and 19 from each friendship group were interviewed and the drinking culture of members was constructed based on the results. The questions asked about the teenage drinking patterns of the respondents when they were between 12 and 18 years of age. This study describes underage drinking as a social activity carried out mainly by small groups of friends in areas far from the observation of parents or other elder people. Through such groups, teenagers develop social habits, rituals and rules that lead to shared alcohol consumption. The shared system of knowledge, behaviours and customs leads to drinking culture among the teenagers. This culture is enhanced by the interaction among members of the group and forms the basis for future interactions of the group members during alcohol consumption.

            From the study, the researchers found out that the main drivers of engagement with alcohol among young people are curiosity and social conformity. The study found out that older acquaintances usually introduced one member of the group to alcohol, who then introduces it to other members of the group. Illicit drinking of alcohol was found to be exciting and thrilling source of pleasure among young people. The study also found out that underage drinking results from the need to improve social interactions within groups, boost confidence, increase fun and reduce inhibitions. Some teenagers consumed alcohol in order to achieve high levels of intoxication. Amount of alcohol consumed indicated the social status within the group.

            This study also identified measures of managing intoxication. The young people interviewed demonstrated the need to consume high levels of alcohol in order to develop expertise in drinking. Some of the ways of managing intoxication used by members of each group included: buying the right amount of alcohol in the evening, monitoring intoxication levels among group members, attempting to sober up by drinking water, eating food to hide the level of intoxication, pretending to be drunker than one actually is, playing drinking games, and encouraging each other verbally to drink more.

            The main finding of this study was that drinking behaviour among members of a group was not just about peer pressure but a drinking culture that developed over time through social interactions among friends and the interaction between the group and its external environment. This forms a kind of relationship in groups whereby each member plays a special role and demonstrates some level of commitment with the group. The groups were also influenced by external individuals including parents and siblings. These relationships explain how drinking culture among peer groups develop. Percy et al (2011) suggest that alcohol consumption has become an important aspect in the social world of teenagers. Individuals who chose to disengage in drinking behaviors felt left out of social groups of peers.

            This is an important study on how drinking culture is developed through teenage groups. it explains why underage drinking is common in peer groups. The study is reliable because it draws its conclusions from primary research involving teenagers. It gives real results from the sampled groups; hence its results reliable. The study also plays a crucial role in social institutions and social education where social issues are being addressed. This is because it provides the role of social interactions in forming drinking culture. It reflects the suggestions of social theories which suggest that group action is a sum of individual actions which collectively form a culture of the group. In this study, the decision of a member not to drink alcohol leads him to be isolated from a group, but when he chooses to drink his action becomes part of the group action; leading to a common drinking culture.

            The limitation of this study is that it does not offer solutions to the problem. It only explains how the culture of drinking develops but does not provide means of helping a member in the group to get out of the drinking culture. However, it can be assumed that since the culture is formed from the action of different members influenced by external individuals, it is necessary to involve different people in developing solutions to the problem through a multifaceted and comprehensive mechanism.

            The third and last scholarly source is Alcohol Use among Adolescents by O’Malley et al (1998). This study utilizes secondary research from different surveys which show the levels of underage drinking which involves adolescents below the age of 21. The study observes that there are no big differences among socio-demographic groups of adolescents in terms of drinking rates. However, alcohol drinking has been found to be lowest among African Americans and highest among the Whites. Alcohol consumption is also found to be increasing as adolescents advance in years. The drinking behaviors of adolescents are also found to be influenced by attitudinal and behavioral factors such as religious beliefs, average grade level and truancy. The study found out that almost two-thirds of American 12-graders experience some kind of alcohol-related problem(s). The driving force of drinking among adolescents was found out to be the need to experience pleasurable effects such as enjoying or having fun with friends.

            This study seems to support the idea that changes in behavior, beliefs and attitudes lead to changes in the pattern of alcohol consumption among young people. The larger culture including the media influences the attitudes and beliefs that in turn influence drinking behavior. However, O’Malley et al (1998) suggest that the extent of such contributions from the external environment cannot be determined in certainty. According to this study, alcohol-related policies also determine the drinking behaviors of young people. For instance, the increase of minimum-drinking age to 21 years reduced the levels of underage drinking substantially. Some of the policies that reduce alcohol consumption among young people include “zero tolerance” law, restriction of permeated sale hours, and restrictions on number of alcohol outlets. Increasing taxes on alcohol has also been determined as a successful mechanism of reducing underage drinking. This study finds out that the current ways of mitigating underage drinking are related to policies and programs; and suggests that responses from the society should now be improved to become more effective in order to reduce the problem of underage drinking.

            This study is a comprehensive study with a lot of figures and tables from credible sources to indicate the levels of underage drinking and proper mechanisms of mitigating its impacts on the society. Like the other studies reviewed in this paper, this study identifies attitudes and beliefs as the main causes of alcohol abuse among young people (United States, 2006). However, it does not clearly indicate the role of social relations in underage drinking behaviors.

Impact of Academic Knowledge on The Social Elements and Institutions of Both Local and Global Communities

            Academic knowledge plays a crucial role in social elements and institutions of both local and global communication by influencing social relations and interactions in the society. Academic knowledge in the field of sociology includes various theories and models including learning and attachment theories. These theories and models provide knowledge needed by social institutions to provide solutions to social problems (Quinn, 2010). Social elements are also developed in reference to academic knowledge so that the social interactions and relationships within local and global communities are enhanced.

            In relation to underage drinking, knowledge of theories and models developed through academic research and studies enhance a clear understanding of how social elements can lead to underage drinking and how social institutions can be used to encourage or reduce underage drinking. Academic knowledge of social elements and institutions are applicable to local and global communities because they address social issues that affect both local and global communities (Sibeon, 2004). For instance, social elements such as social interactions, relationships, peer pressure, and attachment can be applied to the problem of underage drinking globally and also locally because such elements apply in both cases. Furthermore, social institutions such as families, schools, society and governments are common in local and global communities.

Knowledge on social elements such as social interactions and relations has been used in this paper to explain how underage drinking is developed. Such knowledge is therefore needed to understand how the prevailing social issues come about. On the other hand, academic knowledge on social institutions explains how various institutions such as families can be used to minimize the problem of underage drinking (Sibeon, 2004). In this paper, it is clear that a multifaceted approach that engulfs various social institutions should be used to minimize the impact of underage drinking in the society.

Impact of Principles of Active Citizenship

            The principles of active citizenship include the roles and responsibilities played by various members to the society and environment (Crick & Lockyer, 2010). Governments and other governing bodies are expected to give rights to the people while the people are expected to uphold some responsibilities towards their societies, nation-states or companies. This is common in country level as well as in wider perspective of global citizenship. The principles of active citizenship enable the citizen to fulfill rights and responsibilities in a balanced manner (Crick & Lockyer, 2010). These principles have an impact on underage drinking.

            Since underage drinking occurs in social groups of individual young people, it is clear that the members of the groups have rights given to them by the state. They also have responsibilities to uphold. One of the rights they enjoy is the right to socialize and interact with other peers. However, they are required to have individual responsibilities to uphold including the responsibility to follow the law (Crick & Lockyer, 2010). One of the laws to be followed by citizens is the minimum age law which requires people not to drink until they attain a certain minimum age. From the literature review, it is clear that many young people drink alcohol against this law. Therefore, the principles of active citizenship are not observed by the young people.

            The external society including parents, teachers, local leaders and other members of the society also have a role to play in minimizing underage drinking in the society. From the attachment and social learning theory, young people are considered to be getting behaviors from other people including caregivers like parents and guardians (Pritchard & Woollard, 2010). Parents have the responsibility to teach their children how to become good citizens and obey the law of the land. Teachers are also responsible for teaching children about the importance of being a good citizen. The government has the responsibility to protect young people from bad members of the society who harass and force them into things they are not willing to do, e.g. drinking.


            Various studies indicate that underage drinking is a serious social issue that causes several social problems among young people. Literature shows that underage drinking is caused by individual actions of members of various peer groups which come together through social interactions and relationships. As underage drinking increases, various problems such as injuries, accidents, deaths and violence are encountered. These can be addressed through multi-faceted and comprehensive approach, community involvement, and effective law enforcements.  Academic knowledge and the principles of active citizenship are important in achieving desirable outcomes of underage drinking in the community because they provide a good understanding of the problem and how to solve it.

References List
  • Crick, B., & Lockyer, A. (2010). Active citizenship: What could it achieve and how?. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
  • Dedel, K. (2010). Underage Drinking. Washington, DC: Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, Inc.
  • Fell, J.C. (2007). The Relationship of 16 underage drinking laws to reductions in underage drinking drivers in fatal crashes in the United States. Proceedings, 51, 537-557.
  • Hingson, R. W., Assailly, J.-P., & Williams, A. F. (2004). Underage drinking: Frequency, consequences, and interventions. Traffic Injury Prevention, 5, 228-236.
  • O’Malley, P.M., Johnston, L.D. and Bachman, J.G. (1998). Alcohol Use among Adolescents. Alcohol Health and Research World, 22(2), 85-94.
  • Percy, A., Wilson, J., McCartan, C. and McCrystal, P. (2011). Teenage drinking cultures. Water End York, UK: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
  • POP Center (2014). Responses to the Problem of Underage Drinking. Accessed November 16, 2014 from http://www.popcenter.org/problems/underage_drinking/3/#endref43.
  • Pritchard, A., & Woollard, J. (2010). Psychology for the classroom: Constructivism and social learning. London: Routledge.
  • Quinn, J. (2010). Learning communities and imagined social capital: Learning to belong. London: Continuum.
  • Riley, P. (2010). Attachment theory and the teacher-student relationship: A practical guide for teachers, teacher educators and school leaders. London: Routledge.
  • Sibeon, R. (2004). Rethinking social theory. London: Sage Publications.
  • United States. (2006). Sober Truth on Preventing Underage Drinking Act. Washington, D.C: U.S. G.P.O.
  • Zhong, H., & Schwartz, J. (2010). Exploring gender-specific trends in underage drinking across adolescent age groups and measures of drinking: is girls’ drinking catching up with boys’?. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 39(8), 911-26.

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