Risky Sexual Behavior
Underage drinking encourages risky sexual behavior. The youths who drink alcohol are more likely to engage in sexual intercourse. Alcohol influences risky sexual behavior such as sexual experiences at an early age, sex with multiple partners, and unprotected sex. The drinking youths also have a higher likelihood of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, experiencing unplanned pregnancies, and delivering babies with Fatal Alcohol Spectrum (FAS). Children with FAS disorder experience birth defects such as growth deficiencies, Central Nervous System Complications (CNS), and abnormal facial features (Stimmel, 2013).
A survey conducted by Young et al. (2009) indicates that 65 percent of heavy drinkers engaged in sexual intercourse before their 14th birthday. The study further indicated that 31 percent of alcohol drinking youths engage in unprotected sexual intercourse with at least six different partners as compared to 4 percent of those who do not drink alcohol. They also reported having used alcohol before the sexual activity. Adolescents account for 50 percent of new HIV/AIDS cases (Epstein & Gerszberg, 2012). Alcohol drinking is a major contributor to this phenomenon since it impairs decision-making abilities that leads to risky sexual behavior.
Alcohol-Linked Mental Disorders
Drinking at an early age increases the risk of alcohol addiction later in life. Alcohol-related disorders include alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence. Adolescents experience additional problems resulting from alcohol use such as fainting, lower academic performance, blackouts, and risky sexual behavior. Other problems such as withdrawal appear after years of heavy alcohol use (Sigman, 2012).
Alcoholism is a medical condition that results from drinking a large quantity of alcohol on a single occasion. According to Sigman (2012), about 60,000 American youths suffer from alcohol poisoning annually. A common cause of alcohol poisoning is binge drinking where a person consumes more than five drinks in a short period. Both first-time and experienced teen and college student drinkers are more likely to binge than older people.
Health Care Expenditures
The immediate pecuniary consequences of teenage drinking are believed to account for at least $8.4 billion of annual health care expenditures in the US. These costs are higher compared to $6.9 billion channeled to other health problems such as smoking. Individuals with a history of alcohol abuse spend more on the health care services compared to moderate and non-drinkers. If untreated, alcohol problems waste on average $18.4 billion dollars annually in health care, criminal justice and business (Epstein & Gerszberg, 2012). These financial implications of teenage drinking in the form of health care expenditures represent a societal loss as the resources could be used for other constructive options. The health care expenditures on the services for alcohol abuse treatment and medical consequences of the condition also represent a significant amount of health care cost of underage drinking.
Strain on Resources
Teenage drinking has a great impact on health care resources. About 25 percent of all patients in the general hospitals in the US are receiving treatment for alcohol-related complications. Further, the strain on health care resources is not limited to the users. The family members also bear the brunt. The children of alcoholics admitted to hospitals take about 60 percent more days and account for 30 percent longer stays. A greater percentage of these children suffer from FAS (Sigman, 2012). The longer stays strain resources of healthcare facilities such as bed spaces.
About 60 percent of all road accidents in the US are caused by drunk driving. Underage drinkers account for $3.5 billion of annual medical costs due to road accidents (Kiesbye, 2013). The victims strain health care facilities prompting some hospitals to create a special ward for the patients. Some cases include violence that results from intoxication due to excessive drinking. Alcohol use by teenagers is also associated with drowning, homicides, and suicide.
Additional Health Care Programs
The effects of underage drinking are so immense to the extent that the health care department creates additional programs to offer interventions. The establishment of rehabilitation centers to guide the patients recovering from alcohol abuse costs the government about $1.5 billion every year. The facilities are fully equipped with personnel, catering services, and training facilities for economically constructive activities. The health care sector also incurs costs of placing advertisements in the media to caution against adverse consequences of underage drinking. It also organizes campaigns and sensitization drives to inform the public about the consequences of teenage drinking. Alcohol causes serious health complications such as liver damage, brain impairment, and cancer. The health care sector intervenes by conducting research and personnel training specifically meant to find solutions to these complications. These additional programs including rehabilitation centers, advertisements, and research have a financial implication for the health care sector.
Interventions to Address Teenage Drinking
The interventions to prevent underage drinking can be classified into two classes. The first category is environmental interventions. These interventions seek to reduce the cases of underage drinking as well as community tolerance for underage alcohol use. They also involve the increase of the penalties for non-compliance with alcohol drinking laws and minimum legal drinking age. The second category includes individual level interventions. These interventions seek to enhance knowledge, intentions, attitudes, skills, and expectancies to assist the youth to resist pro-drinking influences.
Increasing the Price of Alcohol
Quantitative research indicates that high prices on alcohol reduce the level of alcohol consumption, especially among the youths. The government of the US heavily taxes alcohol to lower its affordability to the young people. The taxes are implemented at the state and federal level. They are based on the amount of alcohol purchased and are alcohol specific (Stimmel, 2013). All these measures reduce alcohol-related harm and raise revenue.
The US has zero tolerance laws that illegalize driving for people under 21 years of age after taking any emotion-altering drink. Initially, eight states in the US adopted the zero-tolerance laws. A survey that compared these states with the states that had not adopted the laws indicated a 20 percent reduction in the number of single-vehicle crashes involving young people below 21 years of age (Fielder, 2011). The government is also making efforts to enforce laws that illegalize selling of alcohol to people under the age of 21. The laws reduce the adverse effects of alcohol on the society.
Raising the Minimum Legal Drinking Age
Minimum legal drinking age in all states in the US is 21. The directive to increase the minimum drinking age has achieved tremendous success in reducing underage drinking and crashes related to alcohol among the people younger than 21. According to the National Highways and Transport Safety Authority, the setting of the minimum drinking age at 21 saves about 900 lives annually. New Zealand’s policies is an example of the efficacy of increasing the minimum drinking age in fighting underage drinking and its adverse effects. In 2008, the country reduced the legal drinking age to 18. Since the enactment of the law, the country has experienced an increase in alcohol-related crashes by 15 percent among 17-19-year-olds (Kiesbye, 2013). This indicates that increasing the minimum legal drinking age is an effective intervention in reducing teenage alcohol drinking.
One of the preventive interventions is the primary information. The intervention used scare tactics to make children aware about the dangers of alcohol use at an early age. This approach is based on the belief that if children understand the dangers of alcohol use, they would choose not to drink when they grow up. The intervention became ineffective with time. The modern programs adopt social influence models and involve addressing social pressures to drink, setting norms, and teaching skills to resist drinking. The interventions also offer interactive information and include peer-led components (Fielder, 2011).
The parents have a high ability to influence their children’s behavior discouraging drinking. They should set clear rules that prevent alcohol drinking and enforce the rules consistently. They should also monitor their children’s behavior to detect any activities that can lead to underage drinking. One of the programs in the US is the Iowa Strengthening Families Program (ISFP) (Lapham & Bradley, 2012). It is offered when the children reach grade 6 and proposes long-lasting preventive effects on teenage alcohol drinking.
Less Enforcement Costs
The first most cost-effective intervention is increasing the price of alcohol. The government sets prices of alcohol that apply to all outlets. The intervention does not require the deployment of compliance officers since the sellers cannot sell below the price set by the government. The intervention is self-enforcing. Further, the high prices decrease the demand for alcohol and achieve the goal of discouraging teenage drinking. It also reduces overdrinking as people can afford only a few bottles due to high prices.
Reduction in Health Care Costs
The zero tolerance laws ensure that people below 21 years of age do not drive under the influence of alcohol. Enforcement of the law significantly decreases the rates of crashes. This reduces the health care costs on victims of the road crash. The consequent reduction in road accidents also reduces the strain on health care resources such as hospital beds for accident victims.
The government raises the price of alcohol by increasing taxes on alcohol-related products. The taxes are a source of revenue to the government. It also imposes fines on the business owners who sell alcohol to underage people. The increase in the cost of acquiring licenses to operate an alcohol outlet also generates revenue to the government.
Alcohol Outlet Density Regulation
Alcohol density is the concentration of alcohol retailers in an area. The retailers include restaurants, bars, and liquor stores. Research indicates a positive relationship between outlet density and excessive alcohol consumption. The policy makers should apply regulatory authority such as licensing or zoning to regulate alcohol outlet density. One of such measures includes relinquishing alcohol beverage retail privatization. The government should eradicate monopoly control over the retail sale of alcoholic beverages.
Dram shop law is the law that holds the owner of the alcohol retail outlet is legally responsible for the harms caused by the customers who recently consumed alcohol from their establishments. The harms that alcohol-intoxicated customers may cause include injury, alcohol-related car crash, and other damages. The imposition of dram shop liability will ensure that the sellers of alcohol will to sell it exclusively to responsible persons. They will ask the age of their customers to ensure that they do not sell to underage individuals.
Enhanced Enforcement Programs
Policy makers should introduce enhanced enforcement programs to check whether retailers comply with the law prohibiting the sale of alcohol to minors. The checks should be conducted by local law enforcement agencies. The violators should face administrative and legal penalties or revocation of their licenses. The agencies should publicize their enforcement activities in the media to caution sellers of alcohol against selling to minors.