24 September, 2021

The Humanitarian Collective

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The Equivalent of Water: What You Need to Know About the Slavic Epidemic of Underaged Drinking

Booze, spirits, firewater, – alcohol! A colorless liquid produced by the natural fermentation of sugars; an intoxicating liquid that many people cannot imagine living without. There are a number of motives for drinking: escaping problems, stress relief, and often peer pressure. However, in Slavic countries alcohol is meant mainly for enjoyment, as it has great significance to the culture.

The Czech Republic ranks within the top five nations in the world with the highest alcohol consumption. Czech males won the top spot for binge drinking, whereas Czech females drank the most alcohol per capita. In my view, it’s absolutely acceptable for people to drink alcohol along with their lunches and dinners (although during the afternoons Aperol turns into lemonade). Alcohol can be found anywhere, at any time in the Czech Republic. The legal drinking age is 18, yet within Czech society, almost no one sees an issue with a fifteen year old, as practically everyone is drinking anyways. 

Underage drinkers simply never get caught –not even the Czech police find it concerning. For young Czech people, even 18 seems unnecessarily late to begin consuming alcohol. For these reasons, hearing that in the United States the legal drinking age is 21 sounds like silly rubbish. Due to the lack of government policies in Czechia on alcohol sales, 90% of salespeople don’t have a problem with selling alcohol to minors. In fact, requests for identification from alcohol vendors in Czechia are quite rare! Consequently, in the past ten years, the number of minors who have been consuming alcohol in public has spiked from 70% to 94%. 

It has become extremely normalized for students to go out for a drink whenever they hang out, which has helped spread the drinking culture amongst young people exponentially. According to the OECD, Czechia has the worst record in Europe for underaged alcohol consumption, with over 40% of fifteen-year-olds admitting to drinking on a regular basis. 

Despite the fact that this negative tendency has been repeatedly mirrored in statistics, Czech authorities disregard this issue– there is no one to stop teenagers from having too many drinks.On the other hand, rarely do you see adults wasted in Czechia, it’s only truthfully teenagers who over do it. 

However, this epidemic of underaged drinking doesn’t only apply to teenagers, but also some as young as 13– most don’t know where their limits are. From the start of this century, the proportion of Czech boys under fifteen who get drunk regularly increased from 30% to 43%. Yet, the proportion for girls rose even more, with the gap jumping from 26% to 41%. Still, no one seems concerned as most adults support their children in drinking, believing that being introduced to alcohol at a young age makes them behave more responsibly around it once they go to college and no longer live with them. 

As a 16-year-old living in the Czech Republic, the drinking culture has generally had a positive impact on myself and many other teenagers. As alcohol is openly discussed, we have been introduced to the factors that influence the effect of intoxication. It’s important to note that each time you drink, it’s a different experience. Understanding how alcohol will be absorbed is important in knowing where your limit is and when to stop drinking to prevent serious consequences. The major factor in alcohol consumption is the time period in which you consume the alcohol. As we all know, sipping wine during dinner is less likely to give you a headache than chugging multiple shots within an hour or two. It’s crucial to drink water before and during drinking to help balance the alcohol concentration in the bloodstream. In fact, experts recommend drinking a glass of water in between each drink! 

Another significant factor is whether or not you have an empty stomach. If you’ve eaten before, the alcohol absorbs into the bloodstream slower. Alcohol equally mixes with the food when it is consumed, which has minerals and other properties so that it is not the only substance entering your bloodstream, meaning that you become less intoxicated. Additionally, body size and composition plays a large role in the impacts of alcohol on the body. Smaller individuals will become impaired quicker because the alcohol diffuses faster, whereas the more body fat you have, the more the alcohol will spread across your body. Females biologically have less enzymes to metabolize alcohol, however it doesn’t necessarily mean that they get intoxicated quicker. The more regularly one drinks, the more the body gets used to breaking down alcohol, hence, a less drastic reaction to intoxication. 

Furthermore, combining alcohol with other drugs makes one more vulnerable, as it must cope with a larger amount and different toxins. This is the same when it comes to certain medications. For these reasons, it is important to check what medication can be mixed with alcohol before-hand, something that most Czech teenagers are nott aware of. It’s highly important that one does strain the liver with too many substances at one once, and with such a large population of alcohol consuming teenagers, this message about alcohol safety must be amplified.

Finally, I want to discuss the more general direct effect that alcohol has on a teenager’s body. It’s worth noting that alcohol is a depressant, meaning that it slows down the function of the central nervous system. For this reason, smaller amounts of alcohol can make one feel more relaxed and calmer. At the same time, alcohol blocks many normal neurotic messages that are trying to make their way to the brain, which mainly alters a person’s perception, movement and vision. Yes, once you fall asleep and wake up the next morning, usually these side effects of alcohol are expelled. However, teenagers’ brains continue to develop until the age of 25. Drinking as often as Czech teenagers do can cause serious memory issues and body coordination & movement complications during adulthood. 

On top of that, teenagers are more likely to develop alcohol dependence, an issue that has become more prevalent in recent years. 

What you need to know:

Teenagers who start drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to become addicted than those who start drinking at 21. An abuse of alcohol within one night often results in intoxication, which most are familiar with as one being disoriented and confused. It is known to slow down one’s reaction time, which increases chances of injuries and accidents happening. Equally, one’s personality changes; this is dependent upon each individual – some become friendly while others become aggressive. 

In Czechia, massive overuses of alcohol in one night will result in alcohol poisoning for teenagers. The initial symptom is vomiting, usually followed by extreme sleepiness and unconsciousness (sometimes difficulty to breathe). At this point, the individual is completely dependent on others, as they aren’t capable of talking, walking, and more. It’s important that the person is sitting, not lying down, because if they start vomiting there is a risk of choking. Most people with alcohol poisoning will throw up, even when they are unconscious, but if they don’t then usually they have to go to the hospital for the alcohol to be pumped out from their stomach. Once they vomit, the next step is waking them up as they shouldn’t sleep. What helps most in this scenario is showering them with cold water. Once they wake up a bit (even if they haven’t), they should drink plain black coffee without milk! This helps neutralize the alcohol in the stomach. Usually, the person won’t be capable of drinking themselves, so others may have to assist by feeding them with spoons. Please, keep in mind that severe alcohol poisoning (even if it happens only once) may lead to death, something that is seen too often and Czechia and other slavic nations.

To conclude, I’d like to express my own opinion on this matter. Alcohol isn’t always a negative, especially when it’s dealt with responsibly. It shouldn’t be used as a therapy or cure to someone’s sadness when they don’t want to feel anything. Instead, it should be seen as an accessory to dinner or a celebration. If people are simply more educated on this issue, especially in my nation, we will not have to confront these dire circumstances as often. There isn’t a right age to start drinking as it is very individual, and personal for many. When someone is ready, it is their choice to try it. However, moderation and knowing yourself and what you want is the key to drinking safely. 

Overall, there will never be a day where society will not have to confront the menace of alcohol poisoning and unsafe drinking among teenagers, however with education and knowledge, we can save lives.

The article above is an opinion piece reflecting the opinion of the writer but does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Humanitarian Collective, its Editorial Board, opinion editors, constituents, or sponsors.

Sources:

https://english.radio.cz/oecd-czech-republic-has-worst-record-europe-underage-drinking-8254878

https://www.respekt.cz/fokus/drinking-age-18-or-21

https://news.expats.cz/czech-culture/the-czech-relationship-with-alcohol/

https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/alcohol.html

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/alcohol-teenagers

https://www.medicinenet.com/alcohol_and_teens/article.htm#what_are_the_dangerous_effects_of_alcohol_use_in_teens

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