“I was very shocked when I visited one of the communities in the outskirts of town… to find a 9-year-old boy and his 11-year-old sister drunk.” –Amplify Your Voice
This alarming statement, written by a young woman in Tanzania, portrays the sad reality of adolescent alcohol use. Globally, more young people are drinking at a younger age, and the consequences are dire. Adolescent alcohol use is associated with alcohol-fueled homicide and suicide, alcohol dependence, and alcohol poisoning. Alcohol also contributes to an increased risk of mental health problems and alcohol-related injuries from motor vehicle accidents, falls, burns, and drowning. Approximately 10–20% of the violent deaths among young people are alcohol related. Vulnerable young people, such as street youth and young people who sell sex, are at far greater risk of early initiation of alcohol use and frequent consumption of alcohol than the general youth population.
Alcohol lowers inhibitions and contributes to higher rates of risky sexual behaviors, such as early initiation of sexual activity, multiple sexual partners, inconsistent condom use and transactional sex. For example, adolescents who use alcohol are approximately three times less likely to use condoms. These factors all place young people who use alcohol at a greater risk of unplanned pregnancy and of contracting HIV and other STIs.
People who begin drinking at an early age, who drink frequently, or who drink large amounts are at high risk for developing alcohol dependence and are at greater risk of being perpetrators and victims of violence than their non- or less-drinking counterparts. Hazardous and harmful levels of alcohol use, as well as alcohol dependence, are risk factors for intimate partner violence. Alcohol-fueled violence contributes to young people’s vulnerability to physical injury, psychological trauma, HIV infection and unintended pregnancy.
“It was a …party, everyone was handing me alcohol, and I just wanted to fit in. I downed one shot, then two shots, then a beer, then two beers, until I had consumed more alcohol than words… I don’t remember anything after that. He had sex with me…This doesn’t happen to me. This couldn’t have happened to me.”—youth author, Scarleteen
The potential negative sexual and reproductive health outcomes associated with young people’s alcohol use are alarming, and measures to reduce alcohol consumption and the potentially harmful, sometimes fatal, results of alcohol use among this age group are imperative. We invite you to join us July 10-11 for an online discussion about alcohol and its effect on young people’s sexual and reproductive health. Moderated by FHI 360 and USAID, this forum will give participants an opportunity to discuss alcohol use among young people, associated sexual and reproductive health consequences, programmatic responses to alcohol use among adolescents, and policies aimed at reducing alcohol use. To learn more about this topic, read our recently released YouthLens publication, “Alcohol and Its Effect on Young People’s Reproductive and Sexual Health.”