The Health Effects of Teen Alcohol Use
There has been many studies conducted on the health effects of both short-term and long-term use of alcohol among adults. Long-term risks inlcude liver damage, pancreatitis, certain cancers, and literal shrinkage of the brain. Alcohol use is the second leading cause of dementia; one simple ages quicker on alcohol. (3) But professionals today are worried about a steady increase in teen alcohol abuse and the possible negative health effects. According to an article published by the British Medical Association (BMA) entitled: “Alcohol and Young People”, “…there was a general rise in the proportion of 11 to 15 year-olds who drink alcohol regularly, but also there is an increase in the amount they are drinking on each occasion.”
Adolescence is a transition time when the body is undergoing many significant changes, such as hormonal alterations and brain development. It is also a time when young people start to associate more with friends and associates beyond their childhood contacts. They feel an increased pressure to ‘fit in’ or ‘go along with the crowd’ in order to be accepted socially. These new circumstances can be confusing and difficult for the youth to understand and deal with. Often their ability to make correct or safe decisions is also at a stage of immaturity. Exposing the brain to alcohol during this period may interrupt key processes of brain development, possibly leading to mild cognitive impairment as well as to a further escalation of drinking.
Alcohol is absorbed very rapidly into the blood stream from the stomach lining, in as short a time as 5 to 10 minutes and it’s effects last for several hours depending on the amount ingested and how quickly it was consumed. Females absorb alcohol faster than males because their bodies contain less water. The water dilutes the alcohol and so the same amount of alcohol will produce a higher concentration in the blood. After consuming only 2 to 3 normal strength beers, or 4 or 5 standard glasses of wine, most people will feel less inhibited and more relaxed. Anything consumed after this amount most people slur their speech and become less coordinated and clumsy. Some people have increased emotional reactions. More alcohol could result in staggering, double vision, and loss of balance, nausea, vomiting and an impression of the room spinning.
According to information issued from the U. S. government publication entitled Prevention Alert, teen alcohol abuse showed many negative side effects. “Subtle alcohol-induced adolescent learning impairments could affect academic and occupational achievement. In one study……short-term memory skills were evaluated in alcohol-dependent and nondependent adolescents ages 15 and 16. The alcohol-dependent youth had greater difficulty remembering words and simple geometric designs after a 10-minute interval. In this and similar studies memory problems were most common among adolescents in treatment who had experienced alcohol withdrawal symptoms. The emergence of withdrawal symptoms generally indicates an established pattern of heavy drinking. Their appearance at a young age underscores the need for early intervention to prevent and treat underage drinking. Early alcohol use may have long lasting consequences. People who begin drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence at some time in their lives compared with those who have their first drink at age 20 or older. It is not clear whether starting to drink at an early age actually causes alcoholism. Environmental factors may also be involved, especially in alcoholic families, where children may start drinking earlier because of easier access to alcohol in the home, family acceptance of drinking and lack of parental monitoring.
Aside from the fact that underage drinking is illegal, it poses a high risk to both the individual and society. We will discuss some of the consequences of teen alcohol abuse.
Drinking and Driving
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among youth ages 15 to 20. The rate of fatal crashes among alcohol-involved drivers between 16 and 20 years old is more than twice the rate for alcohol-involved drivers 21 and older.
Alcohol use interacts with conditions such as depression and stress to contribute to suicide, the third leading cause of death among people between the ages of 14 and 25. In one study, 37 percent of eighth grade females who drank heavily reported attempting suicide, compared with 11 percent who did not drink.
Sexual assault, including rape, occurs most commonly among women in late adolescence and early adulthood, usually within the context of a date. In one survey, approximately 10 percent of female high school students reported having been raped. Research suggests that alcohol use by the offender, the victim or both, increase the likelihood of sexual assault by a male acquaintance.
Research has associated adolescent alcohol use with high-risk sex, for instance, multiple partners or unprotected sex. The consequences of high-risk sex also are common in this age group, particularly unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. According to a recent study, the link between high-risk sex and drinking is affected by the quantity of alcohol consumed. The probability of sexual intercourse is increased by drinking amounts of alcohol sufficient to impair judgment, but decreased by drinking heavier amounts that result in feelings of nausea, passing out, or mental confusion. Binge Drinking. Though most college drinkers would deny it, young people do die solely from drinking. In 1995, 318 people ages 15 to 24 died from alcohol poisoning alone, man of them after a night binge at college. At the University of Virginia, a tradition that has seniors drinking a fifth of hard liquor at the final game of the football season (so-called “Fourth-year Fifth”) has killed 18 students since 1990. (3)
British Medical Association BMA, article Alcohol and Young People, Health 1999
(2) Prevention Alert, Vol. 5 Number 6 May 10, 2002,
(3) Author: Kattie Payne, RN, PhD Last updated September 9, 2002, copyright 1995-2004, Healthwise, Incorporated, P. O. Box 1989, Boise, ID 83701.
Other Resources on Alcohol
Alliance for Worldwide Alcohol Research and Education
Teen Drug Abuse Articles
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