(C) - Copyright, 2002 F.W. Boyle, Jr., Ph.D.

At first thought, I wanted to lecture the reader. Alcohol use among our youth is at dangerous levels. Alcohol injuries and deaths are rampant. For me, the idea of getting drunk for the sake of getting drunk was never a part of my life. I never succumbed to peer pressure to drink alcohol. I never believed that "adults" were trying to keep something from me. Yet I look around and I see young people everywhere indulging in alcoholic drink. I hear stories of what happens to young people who drink, especially to young women. I am told young people drink because of the pain in their lives or because they don't want to deal with the world or because everyone does it. The thought that our young people feel such pain is difficult for me to fathom. I could say, "What pain?" but I understand that the feelings and frustrations are real.

I admit that I indulge in very moderate amounts of alcohol. And yes, I know that even a single drink causes damage which may be irreversible. Yes! Yes! Yes!.

The one area with which I have tremendous problems is underage drinking. The consumption of alcohol by young people is prohibited for a number of reasons not the least of which is that young people are less able to deal with the emotional and physical issues arising for drinking.

As for those who allow or help underage persons to obtain alcohol, I believe anyone at or over the legal age who provides an underage drinker with alcohol should spend life in prison. Who are they who dare to destroy the lives of our young people!

Some readers will wonder why the drinking age is 21. Some will think adults are trying to save the booze for themselves. Others parrot the call which arose in the 60s that we can die for our country, why can't we drink? [Note: In the 60s, it was a call for the right to vote NOT the privilege to drink alcohol.] As I stated above, one of the main reasons for the 21 age is an attempt on the part of adults to protect our youth. Not only is a youth ill-equipped to deal with alcohol mentally, the physical body is not fully developed and the younger body is unable to deal with removing the toxins (alcohol) from the body as well as a fully developed person.

Each reader should take a hard look at him- or herself. What does the reader really know of life? On average, young people today are much less mature than the past generation. Young people confuse their lack of naivety with maturity. Naivety has to do with kowning things that are not normally associated with a person of a certain age. Maturity has to do with taking responsibility and behaving in a manner that reflects that responsibility. In one major respect, responsibility is following the laws, even the drinking age laws, to the letter regardless of one's desires. Violating the law is not a sign of being an adult nor is it a sign of responsibility nor is it a sign of a mature person regardless of age.

One question that needs an answer is: What is alcohol?

An alcohol is a carbon-based compound to which is attached an hydroxide (OH) group. The alcohol most commonly consumed by humans is ethyl alcohol or ethanol.

Ethanol is one of the waste products excreted by a microorganism known as a yeast. Yes, alcohol is waste. The yeast digest (eat) sugars as an energy source. During this process, carbon dioxide is released and the sugar is broken down into alcohol. The alcohol is not useful to the yeast and the organism excretes the alcohol from the cell for the same reason a human urinates. A build up of alcohol in a yeast cell will kill the cell.

In a natural setting, ethanol levels can reach about 12% (the level found in wine) before the concentration of alcohol becomes high enough to be detrimental to the yeast. In order to produce hard liquors, man comes along and concentrates the alcohol by distilling (boiling off under controlled conditions) the alcohol- water mixture. Alcohol can be concentrated to 95% purity by distillation. Absolute or 100% ethyl alcohol contains small quantities of benzene and/or methanol. These last two compounds can cause blindness and major brain damage. Ethanol itself damages the brain so even it is not "safe".

Is alcohol beneficial?

In the news, one hears that small quantities of alcohol taken with a meal can be beneficial to the heart and arterial system. True! But the clinchers are small quantities and with a meal. The digestive processes involve the use of the alcohol with fatty substances and the modification of those substances into less problematic chemicals. Without the food and in immoderate quantities and the alcohol enters the body where it causes damage.

What are the effects of ethyl alcohol?

All too often though, humans, and especially young people, are not moderate nor do they use alcohol only with a meal. Young people, as often as some adults, abuse alcohol. Any time one reaches the point where one is feeling even slightly tipsy, one has abused alcohol. At that point the brain is struggling to maintain function because the microoorganismal excrement (alcohol) has reached levels where it disrupts metabolic and other biochemical functions. Cells which absorb the ethanol are dying. The liver, which is one of the main organs in animals to remove toxins, begins its attempts to purify the blood. The alcohol concentrates in the liver and the cells of the liver are damaged. Over time, parts or all of the liver may die or the cells may mutate into cancers. Yes, alcohol is know to cause cancers just like tobacco and many, many other chemical compounds.

But alcohol is a normal, acceptable part of society!

Why do we continue to accept the use and abuse of alcohol as a part of our cultures? No one ever said we were a smart animal! Powerful lobbies are able to purchase legislation beneficial to their needs or to stop protective legislation. Advertising sells alcohol as though it were a necessary part of entertainment. Still others attempt to escape life by using alcohol to poison their bodies to the point of numbness.

Prohibition, where the government tries to stop the people from a dangerous behavior, was tried and it failed. Powerful and deadly groups emerged and a war was fought. Sounds like the drug war of today, doesn't it? Why doesn't prohibition work? Because with prohibition came a great void of knowledge. People need to know the facts in order to make a decision. Facts do not come from your peers and friends. Facts come from proper, valid research. Before you tacitly accept what your friends tell you, spend some time finding out the truth behind an issue such as the use and abuse of alcohol.

One of the greatest weaknesses of our particular society is the lack of honest, truthful information. Young people hear that in some other country children are allowed to consume alcohol. All too often these same young people never hear or ignore the added information that these same other countries experience great problems with alcoholism, major health problems due to alcohol use and abuse, and untimely deaths of persons due to the use of alcohol.

When one looks at the general population, one should note that humans are not moderate in anything they do. Humans regularly eat more than what is needed and thus there are weight problems. Humans smoke more than they need and we find large numbers of humans dying from smoking related illnesses. And humans drink more than they need which in turn leaves us with the numerous problems associated with alcohol abuse.

Look at yourself. When you have a drink do you always stop with a single glass of wine or one or two bottles of beer? If you have hard liquor, do you have only a single shot or mixed drink? Do you always consume this alcohol with food? Be honest. I am not asking you to tell me or anyone else what you do. I am only asking you to take a good hard look and review your behavior.

Oh! you say. I can handle it. Of course you can. But your liver, kidneys, brain, and body are still being poisoned by the consumption of a toxic waste product. Do you, would you, drink your own urine?

Documented research is showing that the use of even moderate levels of alcohol can impair memory functions. Young people who study hard then consume alcohol wipe out the stored information because the alcohol interferes with various biochemicals which are needed by the brain to retain the knowledge. It has been thought that young people are more resilient which they are physically but the brains of young people have not permanently stored the information they are learning in college. Alcohol use during these learning years will lead to adults who do not know the information because it was not stored in the brain.

What can I do to change your habits? Nothing. Only you can do that. Take what I have said here and search for more information. My words are limited but they are given with earnest concern for the future of all young people. Adults are not always smart nor do adults always perform more responsibly than younger people. Work to enjoy life without the artificiality of alcohol. Become more responsible than your peers and your parents.