You might smile, smirk or roll your eyes when you say those words out loud. If you’re in high school, it might bring back thought of last weekend’s homecoming. Maybe you use them, maybe you don’t – but I’m pretty sure you have had the chance to. Beer and Vodka taste awful – but many of you have gotten past that and have sailed head on into the drinking culture that is all around. I’ll stick with Beer and Vodka in this story because those two seem to be the ones that show up the most in teen life (they are cheapest, after all) – but it’s really alcohol we’re talking here.
Most people seem confused around whether Beer and Vodka are good or bad, harmful or beneficial, dangerous or not so much… The consensus seems to be that drinking is part of growing up. That getting “turnt” “lit” “wasted” “effed up” is expected and even admired and that those who abstain are missing out on life or not doing it right – or developmentally delayed- or just weird.
But that is a sad distortion. The fact is, that drinking, and especially drinking to extreme intoxication is not just bad for you, it’s kinda gross, too. If you ever have walked stone-cold sober into a party or bar where everyone has been drinking, you know what I mean. If you don’t, try it some time. Soak it in. Smell it. Look at it. Watch people and even try to have a conversation.
The fact is, to the developing brain and yes, even the socially awkward and anxious teen brain – alcohol is harmful and drinking heavily may end up making you into the kind of person you were never meant to be and you never wanted to be.
First – brain damage. Yep. Alcohol affects a young person's brain differently than an adult brain. A number of studies on the adolescent brain show brain injury, abnormal brain function, impairment and underdevelopment in teens who drink heavily as infrequently as once or twice a month. Prolonged heavy drinking in adults can cause brain damage, too, but it is different. It is ironic to think so many people associate drinking with growing up. Drinking actually delays maturation. Your non-drinking friends will mature more quickly than you, leaving you behind in childhood while they are the ones who are growing up. If you are an adult and have been drinking heavily since your teens, guess what? You have not grown up yet.
Second – heavy drinking can make you an addict. No one takes their first drink thinking they will someday become an alcoholic or drug addict, but the younger you start and the more you drink, the greater your chances of doing just that. Your risk is higher if your parent or grandparent is an alcoholic. It lowers to almost nothing if you put off drinking until your early 20s. You eliminate all risk if you never drink at all (some don’t). Some of you may have a drinking problem already. Get help before it ruins years or even decades of you and your family’s lives.
Third – heavy drinking can hurt or kill you. When you get drunk (with as few as three to five drinks), your body is being poisoned and that poisoning can lead to organ failure and death or permanent disability. Your brain loses cognitive function and can no longer discern what is safe or dangerous, what is a good idea or a bad idea and even sometimes where you are or who you are with. Drunk people are often both perpetrators and victims of accidents, violence and crime. Sober people --not so much.
You may think that your friends have your back – but if they are drinking or drunk, their capability to help you or to even notice you are missing or believe something wrong is distorted or disabled. Not much help there. Too many young people’s lives end or are permanently altered because of accidents that happen while they or someone else has been drinking and usually that kind of drinking is heavy. Maybe you know someone this has happened to. Maybe it will happen to you.
I cannot emphasize enough how dangerous teen drinking behavior is. Beer pong setups are common in every basement. Vodka shots are standard and boasting about how much someone drank last night seem like an achievement. It is not. There seems to be no concept that multiple shots can kill you. Like eating, it takes a little while for the brain to register the level of intoxication. After several shots, a person can go from stone cold sober to passed out in a matter of minutes. Teens are hospitalized every week in our community for alcohol poisoning. It is not funny – regardless of what you read and see in social media posts. It is sad.
Fourth – sex. Yep, often people find sexual behavior OK drunk that they never would think acceptable sober. Sometimes it is even criminal – or shameful. Maybe you hook up with someone else's partner. Maybe you go too far. Sexual reputation can follow people for years and can cause anxiety, depression, substance abuse problems and even suicide. You know your peers can be cruel and judgmental, especially around sex. They shouldn’t be, but they are. Drunk sex is heralded in movies, books, tv and Netflix as not only acceptable, but expected. But they do not show the truth.
Fifth – sex. Besides dubious sexual behavior, there is risk of sexual infection. When your brain is less capable of deciding what is a good idea and what is not, you are more likely to engage in unprotected sex. If your partner has done it before – or if you have – you run the risk of receiving or transmitting sexual infection. Besides needing medical treatment, your peers can be, right or wrong, downright cruel if this happens to you. I wonder why they never show the googling of symptoms or doctor pharmacy visits in the movies.
And finally for today, getting drunk too often means losing your memory. If you really want to have a good time and create good memories, don't drink because those memories can be erased.
But aside from the bad things that come of drinking, there is this… there is nothing you can do, no mistake you can make, no shame or embarrassment you can endure, that separates you from the love of God. It may look like Beer and Vodka promise to make life more enjoyable or more exciting or more “fun”, but the abundant life has never been found at the bottom of a bottle, can, keg, box or solo cup. So look up and live. Love God. Love others. Love yourself.