The Real Consequences of Underage Drinking: Is it Worth It?
June 14, 2019
DISCLAIMER: Hours of research have gone into making this article an accurate representation of underage drinking in Marin County, and the risks associated with this behavior. The middle part of the story follows teenagers on a Saturday night as they consume copious amounts of alcohol. Only in this part of the article have ALL names been falsified and details changed to allow for the sources anonymity. However, every anecdote and claim in this article is true.
People aged 12 to 20 are not allowed to legally consume alcohol in the United States.
The same age group consumed 11% of all alcohol in the US in 2017, as stated by the CDC.
Are you surprised? Probably not, because American society has accepted underage drinking. The majority of people seem to understand that student-age minors across the country are spending their weekends playing drinking games, shotgunning beers, and taking shots. Which explains why the message “Don’t drink,” seems to have been replaced by, “When you drink, be safe.”
San Rafael High School parent, Angelique Benicio, explained her stance on her children drinking, “I…understand they will at least occasionally drink in social situations…If they are going to drink, they should be safe and responsible.”
This problem is only exacerbated at college where complete freedom from parents and weekends full of free time lead to fifty percent of students binge-drinking and eighty percent drinking at some point throughout a school year.
Then again, with weed, cocaine, lean, MDMA, Xanax, and percs making common appearances in mainstream media, maybe society has decided to allow teens the freedom to drink in hopes they will make the decision to avoid “harder” drugs.
And now, with new technology, we have middle schoolers playing “cup pong” on their phones, the virtual beer pong. We have Snapchat stories that let us flaunt our drinking prowess publicly. We have Barstool Sports, spreading the wealth of drunken idiots on camera to any thirteen-year-old with a phone.
Perhaps we allow alcohol because we think of it as a high school and college pastime. Or maybe a certain level of alcohol use is unavoidable as teens transition to adulthood, looking for ways to test the limits of youth.
Whatever the case, underage drinking has become so normalized that the groups put in place to end underage drinking don’t always seem to care:
On a weekend night near the start of summer, a group of around fifteen high schoolers met up at a local “smoke spot” in the hills of Marin. They set up a beer pong table, drank a bit of tequila, lit a bonfire in a makeshift fire pit, made a lot of noise, and got the cops called on them. At around midnight the cop pulled up to the spot, causing most of the group to start sprinting into the darkness. However, people started slinking back to the group as they realized the officer wasn’t going to punish them for the alcohol.
Instead he was willing to take pictures of a few of the group members being “arrested.”
Stories like this widely contrast the common theme of policemen shutting down high school and college parties at every opportunity, illustrating society’s conflicted position on underage alcohol use.
So, how do we decide how to help our youth when we can’t even decide if we’re really all that against them drinking? We look at what is going on and we each make a decision. So, here are the stories. Here is what is going on.
The sun set on San Rafael and there was still nothing to do.
“Come on guys, not another night getting drunk in the lots… let’s go somewhere,” said Andrew, a SRHS senior.
Andrew’s pleas fell on deaf ears. Everyone agreed with him that the lots were getting old…but what else were they going to do? No one’s house was available yet, and no one was even drunk yet.
There was a chance the group of twenty SRHS seniors and juniors would be able to go to Maria’s house later, but that would be 11 at the earliest, and that was still two hours away. Even then, Maria was never going to let everyone go to her house, so the question had unofficially been asked: Who can wait it out?
As Andrew realized this, the bottle of vodka Emily was holding began to look more and more tempting.
“Hey Andrew, how about you just get drunk with us right now?”
Andrew was offered the bottle. “Nah man, I’m driving I can’t.”
“So….I’m driving too,” Jacob scoffed, withdrawing the bottle and rescinding the offer.
It was then that Andrew considered just going home for the first time that night. Would he really wait around the next couple hours for something to happen?
Then someone said, “Guys, there might be a party we can go to.”
Noah had invited the boys up to his house for a bonfire and beer pong. Chad brought the firewood, Mark the ping pong balls, and Steven brought Josh and Mason, who brought the thirty rack and handle.
Everybody in this group is a senior based on real Marin county students, except for Josh. He is a composite of multiple high school seniors in Marin and their alcohol use.
A few of the guys got to Noah’s early to play some video games, and by 7:30 the beer pong was set up. Most of the guys were drinking slow, working through the thirty at a leisurely pace, but by 8:00, Noah and Chad were visibly drunk. That’s when Mason suggested rage cage. The game would use more beer, but it would last longer. It would also up the stakes, since the loser would be made to drink the “b**** cup”, a cup filled just over halfway with beer and hard.
Mason and Noah started the game, the details of how it was played aren’t important. What matters is fifteen minutes later, Josh’s back was against the wall.
Josh had an eighteen stack of cups to try and bounce a ping-pong ball into, and Noah was right behind him with a one cup stack. If Noah could bounce his in first, the game was over.
Noah bounces the ball. It hits the rim of the cup. The ball pops up into the air. It falls straight down into the empty cup.
“Game!” Noah yells as he stacks Josh, who, much to the group’s approval, picked up the “b**** cup” and began to drink.
“This is going to kill me,” Josh joked as he kicked back his head and began trying to chug the cocktail of spirits and beer. Five minutes later, he ran over to the edge of Noah’s yard and threw up…a couple of times.
Then Josh returned to the circle of guys sitting around the fire and, slurring every word, muttered, “I am soooooo druunk.”
To which the response was, “Another round of beer pong? We’re almost done with this thirty.”
So the guys set up another game of beer pong, and continued to play until 9:15, when the beers ran out and they retreated to the fire.
Caleb, a Tamalpias High School senior, woke up at two in the afternoon.
He rolls over, grabs the phone, opens his eyes. Snapchat from Isaac, one word, “Rally”. There’s a party tonight.
Caleb’s heart jumps and falls simultaneously. On the bright side, there’s going to be something to do tonight. On the other hand, his head is throbbing and telling him to stay in bed. Last night was Friday and the drinking started early, ending with alcohol, pizza, and stomach acid in the dirt.
“It’s at Henry’s house, his parents are gone, most of the upperclassmen are going.”
Henry’s the same age as Caleb, and like the majority of high schoolers throwing a party, he’s probably going to let it get out of hand.
“Dude, my head is killing me…I might sit this one out”
“Ok, but there’s going to be at least forty people and heads are going from other schools too.”
Sometimes you can skip on parties, stay in the night and catch up on sleep and homework, but parties with thirty plus people…those are rare, and unmissable.
The party is completely out of control, and all our characters have made it. Even from the outside it is obvious something is going on in Henry’s house. In one corner there are people taking shots, in another, a couple is making out. In the middle of the room there are two tables set up for drinking games, and Shoreline Mafia is ringing throughout the house.
Although Henry doesn’t seem to care, he’s probably too drunk to notice the broken glass on his parent’s pool table, or the beer-stained floors of his parent’s dining room.
At this point Josh is beginning to sober up a little, so he goes to the corner where the kids are taking shots and asks if there’s any more hard.
“Sure, you want a shot?” asks Andrew.
“Of course,” Josh agrees, eager to get drunk once more.
Meanwhile, Jacob and Noah are at the beer pong table, having not lost in four games they are down two cups to five.
“Goddamit,” Noah curses as their opponent sinks another cup, forcing Noah to down yet another cup of beer. By this point he had been binge drinking for the past three hours.
Josh is now very drunk once again, he’s taken three shots in the past half hour, and tried to drink water, but is feeling awful and just wants to go to sleep.
“Hey Josh, get over here, we’re taking a shot together,” Steven shouts.
Despite feeling like shit, Josh manages to peel his body off the couch and stumbles over to Steven. At this point, he is completely unable to walk in a straight line.
Steven notices this, but whatever…everyone’s drinking a lot, and Josh has always been a warrior.
Steven pours a couple shots of New Amsterdam, the only thing left, clinks cups with Josh, and a few others who had joined the pair, and downs the shot. Steven’s face reels against the taste, but Josh is so drunk he doesn’t even taste the alcohol, an enviable level of drunk, no doubt.
Then Steven turns to claim the game of beer pong he had called.
That’s all Steven heard at first. It’s all he needed to hear because it caused him to turn his attention towards the living room couch. On it, Andrew had just splattered digested pizza and vodka onto the carpet, couch, and himself. He had been alone on the couch for the last thirty minutes, trying to mentally fight the urge to vomit…but, he had been unsuccessful.
“Probably upstairs somewhere.”
“Get him down here.”
It was impossible to hide what had happened, and the whole house quickly began to smell of Andrew’s insides. That was the queue to leave, and the house emptied within ten minutes.
Only a few people remained to help Henry clean up. Josh also stayed behind, curled up on the bathroom floor.
The rest of the drunk teenagers got in their cars and drove away, some went home, some continued the party elsewhere, most shouldn’t have been driving, all had been participating in illegal activities, none of this was out of the ordinary.
As people started cleaning up the mess in Henry’s house they came upon Josh. Luckily, they knew Josh and realized he needed help. They knew exactly what to do, lift Josh, place him in the bathtub, and hope he wakes up.
The next morning he rose without any recollection of what had happened. No idea if he drank or not, no bath, no passing out, and amazingly, no hangover either. When he woke, he simply got an Uber back to his car and started his Sunday. Crisis averted.
Audrey, another senior girl who had been at Henry’s party, was not so lucky. She had been part of the group that was at the lots, and had been taking pulls consistently since 8:30. So, when she ended up at another house party around 12:30, she was incredibly drunk already. That’s when she was handed two small bottles, which she began to chug, thinking they were alcohol.
They were not alcohol, they were bottles of lean…and within minutes Audrey knew this was bad.
For Audrey that night ended in hospital.
Over the course of this night, hundreds of high school age children drank liters of alcohol, really bad decisions were made, and luckily…everyone survived, but no one tried to stop it.
Clearly, drinking underage is accepted, so it’s no surprise that the majority of us start practicing our craft in high school, and half binge drink our way through college.
However, do we ever stop to consider the costs, the personal costs to health, both mental and physical? How often do we ask ourselves if we’re okay with what is going on? Are we okay with this epidemic?
First, the facts: it is the general consensus of the medical community that during adolescence, the brain undergoes remodeling. Basically, from your mid-teens to your mid-twenties (varies from person to person), your brain makes you smarter and better at the things you do all the time, and forgets the things you don’t use often…like olfactory fatigue, or the chemical makeup of glucose. Oh, and most of this remodeling is going on in your prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain responsible for impulse control, rule learning, and decision making.
Mrs. Pikkarainen, a science teacher here at SR, said, “It would be hard to find a teacher that hasn’t (had a drunk/high student in their class).” You might think why a student would even show up to class under the influence, why not just skip school? Simply, this is yet another example of a miscalculation of risk, as the teenage brain’s frontal lobe has not been fully developed.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, we also know that alcohol consumption during adolescence changes the way your brain develops, especially if adolescents are repeatedly exposed to alcohol. In addition, studies have shown that alcohol use during adolescence can impair memory, and change brain patterns.
Dr. Otto Von Franque, Head Pediatrician at Kaiser in Terra Linda, added that there are also many “acute problems with underage drinking.” These are the dangers that may occur or have an increased chance to occur due to intoxication. Among these are increased violence, sexual assault, and unplanned pregnancies.
Clearly underage drinking can have very negative effects, which is why, despite the earlier anecdote, many police are quite strict enforcers of underage drinking laws.
If someone under the age of 21 gets caught in possession of alcohol by a police officer, the consequences are rather grave. According to standard procedure, the officer is supposed to arrest and detain the person caught with alcohol. If the arrestee is under 18, he/she must wait until his/her parents pick them up. After this, the minor must attend juvenile court to finish the process.
According to former SFPD officer Dean Taylor, all that happens in juvenile court is “the judge gives a stern warning to the kid and basically tells them not to do it again.”
If someone under 21 gets caught driving with a .01 BAC or higher, the repercussions are even worse. If a minor gets pulled over and has been drinking, he/she will most likely get their license suspended for a year. However, repeat offenders can face fines up to $1000, have their vehicles impounded, and in some cases even receive up to six months jail time.
Rita Kelly, a mother of three SRHS alumni, said, “Kids are going to drink no matter what, but I think it is the parent’s job to deter them as long as they can.”
This quote captures the exact problem with underage drinking: almost everyone does it or has done it. When adults look back on their time as teenagers, many of them have vivid memories of alcohol use. Without these experiences, they would not be the people they are today. So, it is hard for many parents to try completely eliminating alcohol from their children’s lives.
Is it right that we all act like underage drinking isn’t an epidemic when medically it could be considered one?
Is it right to crack down on underage drinking when everyone drank as an adolescent anyway?
In the end, we are all unique individuals with unique minds and skill sets, and everyone must weigh the pros and cons for themselves and decide if that next shot is worth it.
The problem is that the underage drinkers of America rarely question their drinking decisions, and we should. Binge drinking alcohol has consequences and if you just believe the social benefits of drinking outweigh those consequences, then go ahead…societies not stopping you. However, don’t feel the need to drink simply because it is “what teens do” because maybe a night you won’t remember isn’t worth a lifetime of consequences.