Alcoholism, caused primarily by binge drinking, is increasingly prevalent among youths, and the effects of alcoholism should not be taken lightly. Aside from individual health problems linked to alcoholism, social problems such as family violence, juvenile delinquency and drink-driving are also attributed to alcoholism.
Despite this, insufficient emphasis is placed on curbing alcoholism among youths in comparison to social ills such as smoking and gambling. It is crucial that more emphasis be placed on this area given its growing regularity.
Based on survey findings and scientific research, the impact of media is shown to be the main cause of the rise of alcoholism among youths. In addition, the inherent susceptibility of youths compounds the problem.
An analysis of existing measures showed that current state regulations are insufficient, while a lack of any government body to look into such issues is also concerning.
This report recommends a two-pronged approach to mitigate the issue of alcoholism in youths. Firstly, media regulation should be enforced to prevent youths from exposure to biased alcoholic advertising. This measure has been effective in countries such as France. Secondly, the Association for Alcoholism among Youths should be established to spearhead education and awareness initiatives to provide a long-term platform for alcoholism prevention among youths.
Alcoholism is the compulsive need for consumption of alcohol, which has seen a rise in frequency to 76 million people worldwide (World Health Organization, 2010). Alcohol dependence, caused primarily by binge drinking, is devastating to society with the myriad of social problems attributed to it (Poon, 2010). In fact, a study found that alcohol was the most harmful drug, above tobacco and heroin (Nutt, King, & Phillips, 2010), indicating a serious problem that needs to be resolved.
Of particular concern are youths aged between 15 to 24 years, who are increasingly able to afford alcohol despite the high taxes levied, in a bid to "look cool" while achieving an inebriated form of pleasure (Leong, 2006). Besides underage drinking, reports also describe other causes for concern such as youth's ignorance of the social harms of drinking (Ting, 2008).
The effects of this problem are clear; extensive diseases are linked to alcohol consumption (Think before you drink, 2006) while alcohol poisoning can cause brain damage, memory loss and even death (Wong, 2009). But the negative consequences extend beyond individual health - a wide range of social issues from family violence, juvenile delinquency and loss of productivity can stem from alcoholism. Tellingly, the Subordinate Courts of Singapore (2000) conducted a survey which showed that one-fifth of domestic violence involved alcohol use. In addition, drink-driving is another undisputed outcome of alcoholic behaviour, taking many lives.
This report focuses on the causes of alcoholism in youths and evaluates the effectiveness of existing measures. This report will also recommend feasible solutions to mitigate the problem of alcoholism in youths.
The findings were based on primary research from a survey conducted with local youths between the ages of 15 to 24, as well as secondary research from notable scientific journals.
2.1 Causes of alcoholism in youths
2.1.1 Impact of Media
In modern society, the mass media has been a dominant force in shaping the perspectives and desires of the youth. Youths have been tempted to indulge in alcohol as a means of stress relief and as a social activity. Besides the rampant consumption of alcoholic beverages especially during festive occasions, youths are also exposed to alcoholic advertising in the media which creates a sense of familiarity and induces consumption even among those below the legal age. A study by Collins, Ellickson, McCaffrey, & Hambarsoomians (2007) found that advertising in the media in youth had a large influence on future alcohol consumption. Multiple associations were drawn between consumption of alcohol among youths and various advertising forms such as beer advertisements, promotional items and in-store displays.
The survey conducted also concurred with these findings, with 35% of participants indicating a preference for alcohol due to advertising (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Reason for alcohol consumption
Another notable longitudinal study of 38,000 youths also suggested that exposure to alcoholic commercials strongly increased the likelihood of adolescents taking up alcohol as well as consuming larger amounts of alcohol (Anderson, de Bruijn, Angus, Gordon, & Hastings, 2009).
2.1.2 Susceptibility of Youths
Although the media is far-reaching in its coverage and target audience, youths are perhaps the most influenced by its suggestive nature due to their receptiveness to such information as compared to more sceptical adults. Amos (1992) noted that alcohol advertisements were mainly found in magazines targeted at youths. Indeed, the impressionable nature of youths contributes exponentially to the problem over and above the prevalence of alcohol, from television programmes involving youths consuming alcohol to advertisements plastered on walls. The survey conducted shows the impressions of youths on alcoholic advertising, with close to 90% seeing alcohol as exciting or cool (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Youth's Impressions of Alcoholic Advertisements
Youths as a community also are faced with many problems for which they turn to alcohol. The constant stress from studies and work in the local context lead youths to seek asylum through the influence of alcohol. Youths frequently turn to binge drinking as a quick-fix solution to their anxieties, which may result in a long term addiction to alcohol. Peer pressure also plays a big role in youths who struggle to attain social acceptance by their counterparts.
2.2 Effectiveness of Current Measures
2.2.1 State Regulations
In Singapore, the only regulation imposed on alcohol is the customs duty of $48 to $70 per litre of alcohol (Singapore Customs, 2010). Compared to substances like heroin and even tobacco, alcohol regulations are considered lenient and pose a negligible deterrence against the affluent Singaporean youth. For all the social ills caused by alcohol, from drink-driving to family violence, state regulations are too mild to discourage the use of alcohol in Singapore.
While alcohol advertising is controlled by the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice (2008), no regulations are placed on the time, location or method of advertising of alcoholic beverages. As such, it is not uncommon to view alcoholic advertisements such as Tiger Beer advertisements during primetime television hours, whereas advertisements for cigarettes, gambling and even condoms are strictly prohibited (Media Development Authority, 2001).
2.2.2 Societies Addressing Problem
Currently, there are no government-funded organisations that focus on youths and alcoholism. The closest agency that has emphasis is the Health Promotion Board, which speaks on the harms of alcohol. The next closest entity is Alcoholics Anonymous, a private organisation that helps alcoholics to rehabilitate. Comparatively, problem gambling and drug abuse have their own organisations such as the National Problem Gambling Council and the Central Narcotics Bureau which focus on prescriptive as well as preventive measures. Overall, there is a shortage of organisations focusing on youths and the prevention of alcohol dependence.
Based on the identified causes and the limitations of existing measures, this report recommends a two-pronged approach be taken, with media regulation as an immediate measure to control alcoholism, and the establishment of an association as a long-term approach.
3.1 Media Regulation
A law should be imposed to prohibit alcoholic advertisements in the media, from print advertising to television commercials. Studies such as one by Gordon, MacKintosh, & Moodie (2010) prove alcohol marketing impacts the youth's drinking behaviour. Studies also show a causal link between alcohol commercials and drinking behaviour, indicating alcohol consumption can be curbed through media regulation (Engels, Hermans, van Baaren, Hollenstein, & Bot, 2009). In fact, France instituted an alcohol policy law in 1991 prohibiting all forms of alcohol advertising which has proven successful since its inception (Rigaud & Craplet, 2004).
3.2 Establishment of Association for Alcoholism among Youths
A longer term approach necessitates an establishment of the Association for Alcoholism among Youths, which would spearhead education initiatives among youths. Such an association will provide an avenue for youths to seek help regarding alcoholism, and would also ensure proper education on the effects of alcohol dependence among youths. This organisation would be responsible for increasing awareness through campaigns targeted at youths.
3.3 Effectiveness of Recommendations
Media regulation can be a powerful tool to reduce alcohol consumption, as seen in the case of France. However, this measure might be seen as draconian by some, and the loss of profits can upset alcohol companies who might resort to more aggressive marketing tactics. It should be noted that media regulation is imperative in preventing the false portrayal of alcohol by alcoholic companies. Such a measure needs to work in tandem with education.
The establishment of an association is also highly useful in creating a culture of awareness and knowledge of alcoholism as a social problem, but its responsibilities must be properly defined in order for it to serve its intended purpose. In addition, it has to look into other factors that contribute to alcoholism such as family background issues.
Having a dual approach to the problem will allow the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports to mitigate the two identified causes of the problem as well as provide a sustainable solution to this problem. Youths are the future of Singapore and it is thus crucial to focus on them in striving to resolve this issue.