The truth about teen-age drinking

Mounting fear and controversy follow every fresh report of teen-age drunkenness and violence. But the facts about youth and alcohol have not, until now, been thoroughly investigated on a national scale. Here is

SIDNEY KATZ June 21 1958

The truth about teen-age drinking

Mounting fear and controversy follow every fresh report of teen-age drunkenness and violence. But the facts about youth and alcohol have not, until now, been thoroughly investigated on a national scale. Here is

SIDNEY KATZ June 21 1958

The truth about teen-age drinking

Mounting fear and controversy follow every fresh report of teen-age drunkenness and violence. But the facts about youth and alcohol have not, until now, been thoroughly investigated on a national scale. Here is


What are the cold facts behind the heated headlines and controversies about teen-age drinking in Canada? How many of our 1.7 million teenagers drink? How much do they drink? Do large numbers of them regularly get "tight"? And where do they get their supplies of alcoholic beverages, since it's illegal to serve or sell drinks to anyone under twenty-one years of age?


For several weeks I've been trying to find the answers to these and other questions by interview'ing teen-agers, parents, educators, temperance leaders, social workers, law-enforcement officers and various government officials. I polled the heads of the thirteen largest universities in Canada. In addition. Maclean's asked a research agency which specializes in teen-age opinion and experience to enquire into high-school drinking habits in eight Canadian cities. While my answers are not complete, they provide factual information on some aspects of teen-age drinking.

In the course of my research I discovered that the problem of youth and alcohol is cloaked in an atmosphere of emotion, alarm, fear, frustration and controversy. The alarm and emotion arise from the fact that, according to the best estimates,

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The truth about teen-age drinking: continued

the number of alcoholics in Canada has doubled during the past ten years. The figure now stands at 200,000. Many adults are haunted by the fear that this figure will again be doubled at the end of another decade. Frequent reports of excessive teen-age drinking add to this fear. Peter Bassels, who runs a restaurant north of Toronto, recently hung a sign in his window, saying, “Sorry, we do not cater to teen-agers.” He explained that many of his youthful customers were in the habit of arriving drunk, slashing the furniture and insulting other customers. Toronto police recently found three boys—the eldest fourteen—lying on the railway tracks, drunk. About the same time, an eighteen-yearold youth of the nearby community of Ajax was convicted for drunkenness—his ninth conviction for the same misdemeanor in the past two years. In another community, not far away, police arrested four teen-agers in a car. They had all been drinking heavily. One of them— a fourteen-year-old girl—was so drunk it took six hours to bring her back to consciousness.

Not far from the huge, lighted cross which overlooks Montreal, nineteen boys and girls w ho had been drinking were arrested for fighting, swearing and bothering the public. In Quebec City a sixteen-year-old youth was sent to prison for three months after wrecking a restaurant. He was not sober at the time. In Trail, B.C., the high-school board angrily threatened to put an end to graduation parties because many of the students—some of them only fifteen years old—attended half-drunk. The University of Western Ontario at London, shocked by the amount of drinking at football games, announced that henceforth local police would be on hand to throw all drunks out of the stadium. The student newspaper cynically observed, “It could result in empty stands.”

Do reports of this kind confirm the words of Magistrate Ivan B. Craig of Wallaceburg, Ont., who said that teen-age drinking has become a serious problem and "absolutely out of control”? I discovered that, despite the millions of words that have been written and spoken on the subject, there is no authoritative answer. “No comprehensive survey on this situation has ever been done in Canada," says David Archibald of Toronto, executive director of the Ontario Alcoholism Research Foundation. Rev. John Linton, secretary of the Canadian Temperance Federation, whose headquarters are also in Toronto, states, “Statistically, we’re in the jungle as far as teen-age drinking is concerned.” The subject is further obscured by the reluctance of many informed people to discuss it frankly and fully. "The topic of young people and liquor is pure dynamite." a university president explained to me. "No matter what 1 say I’ll be in trouble with somebody. Don't mention me or my school.”

Conflicting opinions voiced by psychiatrists, educators, temperance workers, religious leaders and lawyers have added to the public confusion about teen-age drinking. A New Brunswick father told me. "I'm teaching my children how to drink at home so they'll know how to handle themselves on the outside." On the other

hand, Rev. John Linton urges that children be taught total abstinence: “You never know

which moderate drinker is liable to become an alcoholic.” Linton believes that parents should set a good example by being teetotalers. If they can’t abstain, then they should drink surreptitiously. “Not everything in the home has to go in front of the children — like sex for instance,” he says.

I discovered a lack of agreement as to who was responsible for teaching children the facts about drinking and what should be taught them. Some educators, like Dr. Joseph Hirsh of New York University, claim that the schools should play the most important part in giving children a sane attitude toward drink. But Reverend A. M. (iuillemette, director of the University of Montreal School of Social Work, says, “The youngster's habits are shaped by the family. No amount of school training will change that.” As to what should be taught, provinces such as Ontario and British Columbia are content to present certain key facts about alcohol in their classrooms and let the students make up their minds about drinking. Manitoba, however, has courses in alcohol education frankly designed to produce total abstainers. Since seventy percent of all adult Canadians drink, the child is often confused by what he’s taught at school and what he sees at home. For this reason, in its manual on alcohol studies, the Manitoba Department of Education warns its teachers to proceed “slowly and cautiously.”

There's no general agreement on how legislation can promote a sane attitude toward drinking among the young. If existing provincial liquor laws were being obeyed, this article could not be written since anyone under twenty-one years of age is not permitted to drink. Yet nowhere in Canada does a youngster seem to have difficulty in obtaining drinks. In scores of communities he can get it from a bootlegger. In many he can walk into the provincial liquor store and buy a bottle without being asked for proof of his age. According to Archbishop Georges Cabana of Sherbrooke, in beer parlors and bars often "juveniles are served without question.” Many citizen and church groups believe that fewer outlets and stricter control for alcoholic beverages would cut down teen-age drinking. But Dr. David A. Stewart, a clinical psychologist on the staff of the Ontario Alcoholism Research Foundation, says, “The number of taverns, bars and liquor stores has little to do with the amount teenagers drink.” This point of view is confirmed by three major American studies on the drinking habits of high-school students. Typical was the conclusion reached by researchers of Hofstra College, Hempstead, N.Y.. after a study of one thousand students in Nassau County: “The law has no measurable influence on the use of alcoholic beverages by high - school students.”

I found that the churches are divided, and individual churches are divided within themselves, on the drinking question. “Drinking moderately has found a respectability,” editor-

laiizes the United Church Observer. Half the United Church membership believe that drinking is contrary to scriptural teaching; they demand that total abstinence be made a condition of church membership. The other half—who arc occasional or moderate drinkers—regard the prohibitionists as fanatical and intolerant. This ambivalence is reflected in the names adopted by anti-alcohol societies such as the Ontario Temperance Federation which, in practise. is strongly against drinking of all kinds, temperate or otherwise. "We don't want to he labeled as prohibitionist." says Rev. Cordon Domm, general secretary of the Ontario Temperance Federation.

But personal opinions and controversies aside, given below are the factual answers—or as close as one can come to them—to a number of questions 1 asked about youth and alcohol.

HOW MANY TEEN-AGERS DRINK AND HOW OFTEN? Half the high-school students polled in the Maclean's survey said they had consumed alcoholic beverages at one time or another. Fighty-five percent reported drinking less than once a month; nine percent once a month or more; six percent once a week or more. In a consistent pattern that runs throughout the entire survey, girls say they drink less often and in smaller amounts than boys.

The only other large-scale Canadian survey with which this study can be compared was conducted by D. R. Gilchrist, director of temperance education. Nova Scotia Department of Education. More than five thousand students in forty-three Nova Scotia high schools were questioned. CiiIchrist concluded that forty-six percent of the teen-agers were drinkers—including those who indulged only on such special occasions as weddings and anniversaries. He placed thirty percent of the hoys and girls in a "drinking group"—those who drank on these special occasions as well as at other times. Only two percent were classed as "moJera’e or frequent drinkers" — students who drank once a week or more.

Regarding age. Gilchrist discovered that twenty-two percent of his drinking group was made up of fourteen-year-olds. This proportion increased with age until fifty-two percent of the nineteen-year-olds were classified as drinkers. At all ages there were more than twice as many boys as girls in the drinking group.

Summing up. these surveys indicate that teen-agers, as a group, do little drinking. Of the half who say they drink at all. somewhere between two and six percent own to drinking with any regularity.

Officials of several Canadian universities admitted to me that instances of excessive drinking had taken place at their institutions—brawls at McGill's fraternity houses; drunkenness at Queen's. Toronto and Western Ontario football games; railway cars damaged during University of Saskatchewan week-end athletic excursions. But. according to Dr. Hugh Saundcrson. president of University of Manitoba. "Perhaps more students drink but fewer of them drink to excess than in ihe past continued on page 51

How teen-agers answer questions about drinking

Maclean’s asked an independent agency which specializes in teen-age research to survey the drinking habits and attitudes of a representative cross-section of highschool youth in eight Canadian cities. Here are the answers that the teen-agers themselves gave to the interviewers:

Have you ever taken a drink?

BOYS YES 54.4% NO 45.6%


46.6% 50.5%

53.4% 49.5%

If yes, how often do you drink?




77.3% 11.5% 10.9% .3%










Do you drink without the knowledge or consent of your parents?







14.2% . 24J.%

85.8% 75.8%

Have you ever been tight?

BOYS YES 25.2% NO 73.5% NO ANSWER 1.3%


2.6% 13.9%

92.9% 83.2%

4.5% 2.9%

Where do you get your drinks?



















Totals exceed 100% because some students answered “yes” in more than on*» category.

Is it difficult to refuse a drink?


YES 4.0% 3.1% 3.5%

NO 93.2% 93.4% 93.3%


The truth about teen-age drinking

Continued from page 15

“No youth who is big for his age is likely to be refused liquor in a cocktail lounge or bar“

I've been to their parties and they're well behaved." Dr. Watson Kirkconnell of Acadia University, Wolfville, N.S., states, “During the past five years only four students have been disciplined because of drinking. This university was founded by Baptists and the ancient tradition of temperance is still rigid."

According to University of British Columbia president Dr. Norman MacKenzie. problem drinkers among college students are as rare as temperate drinkers are common. He points out that more parents are drinking than ever before. "It's unrealistic and stupid to expect that their children won’t follow their example.”

University students themselves are taking the initiative in controlling the indiscreet drinkers on the campus. At Queen's University, for example, the Alma Mater Society Court, made up of students, metes out punishment to students who go on a rampage.

WHERE DO TEEN-AGERS GET THEIR DRINKS? Of the high-school students who told the Maclean's survey that they drank, sixty-two percent said they obtain their alcohol at home; five percent at a bar or tavern; just over one percent at a liquor, beer or wine store which operates under provincial-government regulations, and about one percent from bootleggers. From whatever source a person under twenty-one obtains an alcoholic beverage—inside or outside his own home—the law is being broken.

On the basis of the admittedly limited data on hand, one might draw the following conclusions: the beer, wine and liquor stores of New Brunswick, Alberta and Saskatchewan—in that order—are the easiest places for a minor to obtain drinks. Ontario is the easiest place for a youth to slip into a beer parlor, tavern or cocktail lounge and be served a drink. Ontario and Alberta—in the order given —are the places where teen-agers most frequently patronize bootleggers.

According to groups of teen-agers I’ve interviewed, getting drinks is no great problem. A seventeen-year-old Ontario boy explained. "If you want to go into

a cocktail lounge or beer parlor you dress well and don't act self-conscious. If the waiter asks—never say you're twentyone. That will make him suspicious. Say you’re twenty-three. And always go to the better spots. The inspectors are less likely to go poking their noses in there." Any youth who is large for his age is unlikely to be refused. Perhaps one of the reasons for the laxity of the law is that most provincial liquor-control commissions are short of inspectors. Each inspector has to cover thousands of miles and scores of outlets. British Columbia, for example, has only twelve inspectors. The Alberta Liquor Control Board also has only twelve inspectors who usually are unable to visit an outlet oftener than once every six weeks.

"We've charged many minors with falsifying birth certificates and evcu drivers’ licenses to make a purchase." says G. A. Clash, chairman of the Alberta Board. I found most liquor-control commissioners reluctant to discuss their enforcement activities. One of the reasons may be that they are so frequently criticized. C. L. Dubin, a Toronto criminal lawyer, charges that "kids seem to be able to get all the liquor they want," while Rev. John Linton, of the Canadian Temperance Federation, says. "Many liquor-control bodies think in terms of promoting the sale of liquor, not controlling it."

However, the best available studies seem to indicate that the law has no influence on the drinking of high-school students. In New York State it is legal for an eighteen-year-old to purchase both beer and liquor. Thus, if the law was effective, one could expect a sharp rise in the use of alcohol after the eighteenth year. But the Hofstra College survey noted that “instead of such a rise, it was found that the percentage of students who use alcoholic beverages sometimes reaches its highest point at sixteen years of age and there is no rise after the legal age.” A similar large-scale survey conducted among teen-agers by the University of Wisconsin came to the conclusion that legal restrictions don't control “the age of starting to drink, the kind of bev-

erages drunk or the average amount drunk by each age group.”

DO TEEN-AGERS DRINK WITHOUT THE KNOWLEDGE OR CONSENT OF THEIR PARENTS? Evidently many parents are unaware of their children's drinking habits. One in every four boys and girls questioned in the Maclean’s-sponsored high-school survey reported that he drank without the knowledge and consent of his parents.

There were more males who said they drank on the sly (thirty-four percent)

than females (fourteen percent). An eighteen-ycar-old girl explained to me, “The use of liquor has always been condemned in our home. Because it was forbidden fruit it became glamorous in my eyes. I was bursting with curiosity so I started to drink as soon as 1 was old enough to go out to parties on my own. For a few years I drank quite a bit. Now that the novelty has worn off I only drink once in a while.”


cent of the boys and three percent of the girls told interviewers for the Maclean’s survey that they had been “tight” on at least one occasion. Teen-agers prefer the terms “tight,” “high” or “having a glow on” rather than “drunk.”

In Gilchrist’s survey of Nova Scotia, eight percent of the five thousand students polled said they had been drunk one or more times. He noted that inebriation increased with age. Only three percent of the fourteen-year-olds admitted they’d been tight; this proportion increased year by year until twenty-four per-

cent of the nineteen-year-olds said they’d been inebriated once or more. A double standard definitely exists among teen-agers who do drink. In a mixed group of Montreal youngsters with whom I discussed this problem, both boys and girls gave the boys more latitude in the matter of excessive drinking. They described the girl who got drunk as “disgraceful,” “scandalous,” “a fool playing with fire.” The basis of the disapproval appears to be that women, when drunk, are sexually vulnerable—a matter which received considerable attention in the Yale University study, Drinking in College, conducted by Drs. Robert Straus and Seiden D. Bacon. When ten typical male drinkers were asked to explain the dangers of “going too far” when tight, eight of the ten gave answers pertaining to words or deeds of violence—“using profane language and swearing,” “reckless driving,” “fighting”; only two were concerned with sex. On the other hand, of ten women questioned, all of them reflected fears of a sexual nature— “sexual misbehavior,” “not knowing what I'm doing with a man,” “acting loose in morals,” “sexual intercourse.” In another section of the same study, the majority of boys and girls believed that “drinking generally accompanies or facilitates petting and necking,” and “accompanies or facilitates sexual intercourse.” The Yale study found that while the “regular” girl drinkers had more dates than the occasional drinkers or abstainers they were not nearly as apt to be “engaged, pinned or going steady with a young man.” Discussions on this point with students brought out the belief that the girl who can hold her own at the bar with men is often “not taken seriously or respected; one can have a good time with a girl who drinks but may not consider her as a future wife.” HOW DO THE DRINKING HABITS OF PARENTS INFLUENCE THE DRINKING HABITS OF THEIR TEEN-AGE CHILDREN? The parents advice, example and attitude are undoubtedly the greatest influences on the child’s drinking habits. According to the Hofstra College study, almost all the children who are frequent drinkers have parents who are frequent drinkers. At the other end of the scale, half the abstaining children had abstaining parents. This same fact was underlined in Yale’s Drinking in College inquiry. Where both parents drank, eighty-nine percent of the students drank; where one parent abstained, seventy-five percent of the students drank; where both parents were abstainers, only fifty-four percent of their children drank. According to Drinking in College, advice from parents to abstain is heeded more frequently than advice coming from any other source. Of the students counseled by their parents to be teetotalers. forty percent followed the advice. When the advice came from the church or from teachers, only sixteen percent and ten percent, respectively, followed it. Of the students given no advice whatsoever about drinking, eighteen percent were abstainers. The survey concludes that “while sanctions against drinking are definitely effective when coming’from parents, advice not to drink which originates with the church or school may be actually less effective than no advice.” An interesting sidelight in the Drinking in College study is that student drinking is directly related to family wealth. Of the college students who came from families where the income was $2,500 a year or less, only forty-eight percent drank. By contrast, eighty-three

percent of the boys and girls who belonged to $10,000-a-year or more families used alcohol. Again, in the Hofstra College investigation, sixty-one percent of the high-school students living in homes with four rooms or fewer drank, compared with ninety-two percent who lived in houses of eleven rooms or more. When I pointed out these findings to a temperance leader, he commented, “Those of us who are interested in promoting abstinence should pray for a long and tough economic depression.”

The experts have no over-all blueprints to guide all parents who want their children to have safe and sane drinking attitudes. A drinking or non-drinking program will depend on the beliefs and convictions of each particular family.

But more important, perhaps, than whether liquor is served is the atmosphere in the home. If it is co-operative and friendly; if the child has the opportunity to express himself and develop his interests, chances are that he won't have any future trouble with alcohol. On the other hand, if the home spirit is hostile, overly rigid, and the parents are continually seeking to assert their authority, then the child may defiantly start drinking outside the home in search of recognition and fellowship.

These simple facts have been repeatedly verified by scientific investigations. The Yale Center of Alcohol Studies investigates the drinking habits of a large number of youths belonging to the three major religious groups in the United States. They discovered that the Jews had the least difficulty with alcohol despite the fact that more Jewish parents drank, that a higher proportion of them approved of drinking and that they gave their children alcoholic beverages at an earlier age. When psychologist William H. Wattenberg, of Wayne University, Michigan, turned the spotlight on a group of Detroit teen-agers who were problem drinkers. he discovered that they were “antisocial, overly aggressive, hostile, enjoyed defying adults and took pride in the strategies they used to get around the law.” Their personality patterns were the same as those of non-alcoholic delinquents. In other words, in most cases their basic problem was not excessive drinking but a warped personality most likely due to a bad home environment.


GANG? One of the most popular beliefs about teen-age drinking is that many youngsters drink because they want to be part of the gang. They're afraid—so the theory goes—that if they abstain they'll be regarded as wet blankets and socially ostracized. The Maclean’s high - school poll throws doubt on this view. Over ninety-three percent of the boys and girls across Canada who were asked, "Is it difficult to refuse a drink?” replied with an unqualified, “No.”

That social pressure to conform plays only a minor role in high-school drinking is also revealed by the Hofstra College study. Asked, “Are most of the students you know who do not drink at a party ‘regular guys and gals'?”, the overwhelming majority (eighty-four percent) replied, "Yes.” I recently interviewed a group of fourteen Toronto highschool seniors, all of whom drank. Yet all of them told me that they could refuse a drink on practically every social occasion without embarrassme»,:. One girl explained, “It’s true that you sometimes find yourself with a drinking crowd who make a fuss if you don't join in. If you don't like it. you just switch crowds.” Undoubtedly there is some relationship between the individual's drink-

ing habits and the group he belongs to. The book, Drinking in College, observes, “Students who reported that the majority of their close friends drank were drinkers themselves; those whose close friends most abstained were abstainers themselves. Psychologist David A. Stewart thinks that this process can be socially harmful if carried too far. “Young people shouldn’t segregate themselves into groups of 'drinkers’ and ‘abstainers,’ ” he says. “They should learn to accept life as it is and mix with all kinds of people.”

Educators have recently been giving guidance to youngsters on how to refuse a drink on the theory that such information can be useful on occasion. “A refusal to drink need not be embarrassing,” says a manual published by the Alberta Department of Education. “But a person who refuses in such a manner as to make

anyone uncomfortable is guilty cf bad manners.” A wide array of excuses are available for the non-drinking youth, such as “I’m in training,” “I’m driving,” “I don’t like the taste.”

Programs of alcohol education, such as the one in Alberta, are receiving increasing attention from school authorities. Five provinces have already set up alcoholism research foundations. Churches and youth organizations are devoting more time to the discussion of youth and alcohol. Most parents approve of these developments. They sense that more young people will be drinking in the future—a corollary to the fact that more adults are drinking today. This being the case, they want their children to be equipped to answer the questions: “Should I drink or abstain? And if I do drink — how much can I drink with safety?” ★