Many young people consider their teenage years and early 20s as a time to push limits. To some degree, every generation of teenagers has rebelled in some way.
Most of it is harmless. Youths express themselves through hairstyles, fashion, music and styles of dance. Some forms of experimentation can be self-destructive and endanger others. The risks of youths smoking and binge drinking, in particular, have been highlighted in recent research and news reports.
A new study by University of Utah and University of Wisconsin researchers shows white youths with a certain gene variant are more readily hooked on smoking for life if they start before age 17. Meanwhile, an Associated Press analysis shows alcohol poisoning deaths among college-age people, 18-23, nearly doubled between 1999 and 2005. A separate analysis of news reports conducted by the news service also found that in the past decade, victims drank themselves past the point of oblivion. On average, the victims' blood-alcohol level was five times the legal limit for driving.
These reports are good fodder for discussions with young people about the dangers of smoking and drinking. Most young people may dismiss their activities as youthful experimentation. Sadly, in the case of cigarettes, smoking by a particular segment with a gene defect can render one an addict for life.
Perhaps more difficult to understand are youths who consume such vast amounts of alcohol in a short period of time that they literally drink themselves to death. The Associated Press' analysis of federal records found 157 college-age people who died of alcohol poisoning between 1999 and 2005.
Colleges and universities have long dealt with the issue of students using and abusing alcohol. But some college administrators say more of today's students drink with the expressed intent of getting drunk. Many of these students are underage. Some go so far as to drink 21 shots of alcohol on their 21st birthdays. This practice is particularly lethal, according to the Associated Press analysis. Of the college-age deaths that made news, 11 people, including eight college students, died while celebrating their 21st birthdays, according to AP.
Teenagers and college students are often in circumstances in which they have little or no adult supervision and greater access to tobacco, alcohol and illegal drugs. Unfortunately, they are also in a stage in life when their judgment is still developing.
They need to know that some young smokers risk lifelong addiction and that binge drinking carries steep risks. This knowledge may help them make smarter choices that can enhance, if not save, their lives.