Here are some numbers: 78% of emerging adults drink; 47% binge drink; 10% drink 5x a week or more; 12% smoke pot weekly; 20% use illicit drugs. Here are some facts: “Alcohol consumption is a leading cause of death among youth, particularly teenagers, and contributes substantially to adolescent motor-vehicle crashes, other traumatic injuries, suicide, date rape, and family and school problems” (113, from Christian Smith, Lost in Transition).
Why? What’s going on? What to do?
Nonusers (22%) are of two sorts: the highly religious sort tends not to explain their nonuse on religion but on health concerns, potential damage, or the desire to control the body; the bad-family-experience sort tends toward concrete stories (“my dad…”).
Occasional substance users (25%): seek to balance fun and responsibility while denouncing hard core drugs; their focus is on self-control as a choice they are empowered to control.
Partiers (22%): drink often and often binge drink. About 50% smoke pot too. 17% have used harder drugs. They think this makes them more social. Alcohol relaxes. “Life without alcohol is boring.” Some say it is driven by stress, blues and boredom. Partiers report casual hook-ups; they take risks of many sorts (fights). The model for the partier is Animal House . Most think they are still under control of themselves. They distinguish themselves from hard drug addicts. Morally they tend to the tolerant side; don’t step on the toes of others. Individualistic ethics.
Recovering partiers (21%): something moves them away from the partiers; tend to be older emerging adults. They realize how out of control they were; or they now have to live a more responsible life; or they see potential damage in their partying. These tend to reduce drunkenness to not so often.
The recovering partiers are a resource of revelation about what is going on: about insecurities, conformity, need to relax and relate, depression and struggles in life and school, hard to control that kind of life.
Addicts: these emerge from the above partiers. The stereotype of a what an addict is fails the evidence. Most have regular jobs; most are in denial; appear normal; they see it as relaxing and normal, like taking a bath or a shower. These folks are “compulsively captive to chemically induced intoxication” (135).
They also sketch recovered addicts (among emerging adults).
All of this must be understood within a social context and not just explain it by individual choice . We need to perceive how they were socialized, what their networks were like, how social institutions work, where this all fits in culture. Decisions emerge in social contexts.
A normative culture teaches young adults that partying is what you do when you leave home and go to college. That script also says you calm that down when you leave college and get a job. Intoxication is part of the cultural script for young adults. Some social institutions benefit from young adult intoxication: global black market of drugs, and that market is the norm for young adults today. Alcohol companies make billions. In 2009 Anheuser Busch spent 4.99 billion on marketing. Follow the money. Shady marketing is part of it.
Furthermore, consumptive materialism shapes alcohol consumption as a kind of consumerism. Identity is marketed with product, people consume to gain that identity. Addiction to drugs is a kind of addiction to consumerism and materialism.