This entry is part three in a series of five by our youth correspondent Brett Ouimette.
As we grow older and enter adolescence we begin to be bombarded with even more advertisements for alcohol. Commercials on television show beautiful woman and handsome men drinking alcohol while describing the taste as smooth and sensual. Many kids who try alcohol for the first time are surprised that the taste is not “smooth and sensual” – it burns and tastes like gasoline! Even at the movies we are flooded with pro-alcohol propaganda. After watching “Superbad” and “Old School”, movies that depict alcohol use, how can any adolescent not want to try going to a party and getting hammered with their friends? Even the negatives of drinking are glorified in these movies; for example, one-night stands are made to look like a “successful” night at the bar without even mentioning the possibilities of STIs.
Advertisements are not just from our parents and media but our older friends as well. We begin to hear stories about our older cousins and friends getting drunk for the first time and having a blast. They describe it with nothing but positive adjectives, and more often than not, fail to reveal the negatives of the hangover the next day or the dumb things they did while they were intoxicated.
By the time we are actually old enough to find ways to get alcohol we have already been drowned in it by society, so much so that if you choose not to drink you are an outcast not only to your friends, but also to society. Stress is obviously a huge factor in deciding whether or not teens drink.
Life as a teen now is much different than it was when our parents were younger. We are learning more and more at a faster rate. We are expected to do our homework, chores, SATs, and apply for colleges and scholarships. Alcohol doesn’t necessarily relieve our stress but it allows us to forget about everything and focus on only the present, a luxury that is almost impossible while sober in America. Even the so-called “good kids” drink now in an attempt to escape the stress of all of their schoolwork. With all of this stress we also don’t need the additional stress of being an outcast to our friends by not drinking.
Unlike smoking it is not the social norm to not drink alcohol as an adult. If some ask you if you’d like a cigarette and you say “no, I don’t smoke,” the assumption is you just don’t smoke and are happy with that. If a person asks if you’d like a beer or glass of wine and you reply, “No, I don’t drink.” people instantly assume you are either a recovering alcoholic or have religious restrictions against alcohol. Because of this social stigma, as a child you see drinking as an “adult” thing to do, and something you will do when you get older. This causes teens to associate alcohol with being “mature” thus further promoting it among teenagers.
The social change that happened over time regarding smoking is the kind of change we are trying to make with Straight Up. It’s and the goal of many concerned community members and community leaders through the Ventura County Limits initiative.
If everyone works together we might one day not look at alcohol as a fun way to enjoy our weekend, but the same way we view cigarettes, as a health hazard.
Brett Ouimette is an 18-year-old college student originally from Simi Valley.