The Slippery Slope of Alcoholism in Oregon

The Slippery Slope of Alcoholism in Oregon

In America, one of the deadliest and most disastrous drugs is legally sold by the state and readily available at any Wal-Mart. Though Oregon has not escaped its growing heroin epidemic, alcoholism, especially among youth, is the greatest burden on public health.

A History of Alcoholism

Oregon has struggled with alcoholism for over a century. Before it became a state, Oregon was one of the first places in the United States to ban alcohol. In 1914, it officially prohibited the sale of liquor—several years before the Eighteenth Amendment was enacted. When prohibition was lifted in 1933, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission began regulating the sale of alcohol by the state to people over the age of 21.

Today, Oregon consistently has one of the highest rates of alcohol consumption in the United States and Portland is considered the nation’s microbrew capital. This comes at a tremendous cost: alcohol is by far the most prevalent substance of abuse reported in men and women of all ages admitted to treatment programs (75 percent), and the annual cost of alcohol abuse ($3.244 billion in 2006) is approximately eight times greater than annual alcohol “sin tax” revenues collected ($395.0 million in 2006). But the biggest concern isn’t just heavy consumption: many young Oregonians do not perceive the preventable health risks of drinking and begin the cycle of alcoholism before graduating high school.

Alcohol Use in the Last Month, Ages 12-17 (Source: SAMHSA, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, NSDUH, 2009 and 2010 (Revised March 2012)
Alcohol Use in the Last Month, Ages 12-17 (Source: SAMHSA, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, NSDUH, 2009 and 2010 (Revised March 2012)

"Everybody's Doing It!"

By age 21, ninety percent of American children have already consumed alcohol. If parents do not abstain altogether, they must set examples of safe drinking for their children and dispel any myths about the drug they may have picked up from the playground. Believe it or not, this may even include allowing their teenager to drink—always in a private residence and under close parental supervision—to show them that drinking doesn’t have to be about getting drunk, partying, or bingeing. Yet 21 percent of 11th grade Oregonians binge drink.

In families where parents are heavy users of alcohol or are tolerant of children’s use, adolescents are more likely to engage in substance abuse. The risk is also increased if parents involve their children in their substance use, such as asking the child to light the parent’s cigarette or get the parent a beer from the refrigerator. In Oregon, one in five children who drank in the last month obtained the alcohol from their parents, and 71 percent of 11th graders report that it is “easy” or “very easy” to obtain alcohol.

If not from their parents, where else are children learning about booze? Despite the half-hearted reminders from alcohol advertisements to “drink responsibly,” there is a direct link between alcohol advertising and youth drinking. Long-term studies in Oregon show that young people who see and hear more alcohol ads are more likely to drink—and in many cases drink more heavily—than their peers.

Heavy drinking at a young age is dangerous: on average in 2012, about half of the emergency room visits for children aged 12-17 involved alcohol poisoning—a substantial amount occurring on the weekend of Independence Day. The effects of teenage alcohol abuse are subtle and lingering. The brain of an adolescent is still developing; when exposed to an “exotic” substance like alcohol, it is vulnerable to creating neurochemical patterns around the substance that can alter adult behavioral patterns. Adolescents who drink before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who begin drinking at age 21. Children who drink before age 13 have over a 40 percent chance of lifetime alcohol problems. Intervention at an early age is critical to preventing these patterns from spiraling into full-blown alcoholism.

A Growing Problem

According to an annual national survey, high school students are drinking less alcohol and smoking less cigarettes (and smoking more marijuana), but in Oregon, underage drinking is becoming more frequent. Alcoholism has plagued generations of Oregonians, and tomorrow’s outlook is bleak.

Today, about one out of fifteen children ages 12 to 17 suffers from alcohol abuse or dependence in Oregon. In a survey of in-state addiction treatment centers, young adults ages 18 to 25 also showed the largest gaps in treatment need, and suffered the most negative consequences from drinking, such as regretful decisions, blackouts, unprotected sex, and personal injury. Not coincidentally, rates of alcoholism rise with age. In order to break the cycle of addiction, parents must work together along with their community.

How Can We Prevent Underage Drinking?

For parents:

  • Know your children’s whereabouts
  • Ensure that parties are alcohol-free and supervised by adults

For educators:

  • Provide lessons about the effects of alcohol in elementary, middle, and high school
  • Establish and enforce strict policies against alcohol use in school

For communities:

  • Invest in housing, education, and addiction support
  • Sponsor events that send the message that underage drinking is wrong
  • Support enforcement of underage drinking laws

If you or a loved one is facing addiction in Oregon, click here to browse local addiction treatment centers and find the best one for you.

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