by: Brandon Mitchell
When you were young and your mother said that you could not get into the cabinets, what was the first thing you did? You probably made it a point to sneak into that cabinet. You knew your actions went against what an authority figure dictated, but your curiosity outweighed any loyalty you previously had. Yearning is described as “a tender or urgent longing” (Merriam-Webster) which implies that the desired act is prohibited. In understanding this psychological precept, we may also understand why so many American high school students engage in underage drinking. In making it illegal to consume alcohol under the age of 21, we have created this forbidden aura that naturally causes those who are forbidden to drink it to want it even more. When you are told over and over again by parents, school officials, police, or anyone else that you are not allowed to have something, then you wonder why you are not allowed to have it. The student’s mentality naturally is to wonder why the substance is forbidden in the first place. The students have heard from their friends that drinking is a lot of fun and it does not harm you, but adults just make it that this is something that is life threatening and could potentially ruin their lives. The need to experiment and figure things out by oneself is endemic to the process of becoming an adult, thus entailing that alcohol consumption is naturally associated with establishing ones individuality.
While the forbidden aura associated with alcohol is one reason so many high school students engage in underage drinking, another plausible cause is the need to escape reality. Just being a student in high school can be complicated which can make it difficult mentally to handle for an inexperienced student. Learning to deal with problems as you begin entering into real life can be a difficult process, and for some, it can seem practically impossible. So how does a high school student deal with the feeling? For some, alcohol is the easiest way to cope with the problems typically associated with high school; it is an easy way out. Most teens tend to take the easy route to solve the problems when other methods should be implemented. “Alcohol use disorders have been linked to psychiatric illness such as depression and anxiety, resulting in a potential ‘self-medication’ phenomenon” (Deas, and Clark 679-680). As the quote above states, alcohol becomes the medication that the student consumes in order to temporarily maneuver around the problem(s) facing them. Instead of dealing with their problems head on, many students result to alcohol because it alters their reality by changing their perception.
So what problems can a student have that would cause them to drink alcohol? Well, a few examples of issues that high school students may face which would possibly result to the consumption of alcohol include but are not limited to: problems at home, abuse, peer pressure, low grades, and self-esteem. High school students think that when they consume alcohol they will magically escape reality when in fact alcohol only temporarily sets aside the problem at hand while simultaneously endangering the students.
Yet, while some students use alcohol to cope with stress others use it as a bonding tool. What is a party without a keg or a refrigerator full of Bud Light? Some high school students would answer this question by saying that it is not a party at all. Alcohol becomes necessary at parties as it allows for a sense of unity. Thus, many high school parties are centered on the consumption of alcohol. Alcohol creates a more relaxed environment allowing the students to have fun and bond. Who wants to go outside and play football or play the newest video game sober when you can do it even more relaxed while drunk? This is the philosophy of students who want to fit in or want to have the reputation as a “partier.” Some students only drink at parties to fit in with their peers. When you are at a party and you do not drink, people begin to questions your “coolness” or “reputation.” You start to drink because you do not want to be labeled as the chicken who is scared to drink a small sip of beer. On the other hand, the growing mind of another student may say that since everyone else is doing it, then it is okay if he or she does it. In their mind it becomes okay to drink thus allowing them to drink alcohol because everyone else is doing it. No one wants to be the individual that never gets invited to any of the parties. So what started out as a temporary aid for socialization can potentially result in becoming an alcoholic.
Some may argue that underage drinking is not the ramification of various psychological phenomena but more simply linked to taste buds. Is it so difficult to believe that some students are consuming alcohol simply because they like the taste? A student does not necessarily have to engage in underage drinking due to a psychological defect but simply because it is a pleasurable experience. In the end, this explanation does not explain why someone would result to alcohol consumption in the beginning; the need to act out, the need to escape reality, and the need to be accepted, better explain why students engage in underage drinking.
The problem of underage high school drinking can trace its roots to many motivations. For some, alcohol is the easiest way to maneuver around difficult situations. For others, drinking is more of a manifestation of their inner teen. And even still for some, drinking is merely a way of fitting in. Ultimately though, all three motivations fail to take in account the future and solely consider the present implications. What started out as a drinking game with two friends or as just one bottle to sooth the nerves before a test quickly spirals into an addiction. Underage high school drinking is a serious problem that can have serious consequences. If a high school student anticipating a scholarship gets caught drinking, everything they would have worked for have become futile. The student then sacrifices thousands of dollars and a hopeful future for a $2.50 bottle of Bud Light and an ephemeral happiness.
"Yearning." Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2009. Merriam-Webster Online. 20
Silverman, Fran "A Different Kind of Student Exam." New York Times 30 Mar. 2008: 1.
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Deas, Debra Dr., and Andrew Dr. Clark. "Youth Binge Drinking: Progress Made and Remaining Challenges." Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 48.7 (2009): 679-680. 20 Oct 2009.