We’ve already mentioned that kids tend to get in quite a bit of trouble during their teen years (see here). Well, adolescence is also a time when the brain is developing and therefore is at a high risk for damage, especially when alcohol abuse enters the picture.
Early use means more alcoholism later
While the risk taking can be playful and harmless, when it involves alcohol and drugs the consequences of use at an early age can be long-lasting. The earlier a person begins drinking the higher the reported rates of alcoholism later in life. During this time, when an adolescent’s brain is changing, they are less likely to be able to inhibit themselves, let alone anticipate the future. Those with hyperactive, disruptive, antisocial personalities are at the greatest risk for alcohol abuse at early ages, putting their already somewhat compromised brains at an even greater risk.
Teens, like adults, report feeling more at ease when under the effects of alcohol, which makes it easy to understand why they would want to continue. Less like (some) adults, teens rarely consider the negative consequences of their actions, a fact that has at least a little to do with their still developing brain structures. But there are consequences to alcohol abuse and they can be dire – over 5000 kids die each year as a result of underage drinking.
Young bodies and early alcohol damage
Before these young adults are truly mature, their intake of alcohol may not be properly resolved by their bodies because their regulatory systems are not fully developed and can be further taxed by the intake of alcohol. Alcohol abuse in a young age can have a lasting effect on brain development resulting in impairments for many years to follow. Reproductive organs and other important maturation factors may also be stunted due to a consumption of alcohol during a vital time (especially when binge drinking). As with most people who drink, regardless of the age, liver enzymes are elevated soon after the heavy drinking begins, meaning the body is less able to ward off other toxins.
Parents and alcoholism
Children of parents who drink more and view drinking with a laid back opinion are more likely to drink more as well. This may not be a problem as long as responsible consumption is discussed, but my guess is that it rarely is. Also, kids who have older friends are more likely to begin drinking at an earlier age. Teens that have become addicted to alcohol need help specifically tailored to their age group that does not remove them from their normal home and school setting. It’s been shown that isolating these kids, or specifically grouping them together, may do more harm than good.
Often, adolescents with alcohol abuse problems are also using other drugs, and they may be suffering from other psychological disorders. All of the issues need to be treated at the same time in order to effectively treat the entire person. No matter what the issue(s), the sooner they are dealt with the more effective the results.
Teenage alcoholism is a problem, and one that we shouldn’t be ignoring.
Co-authored by: Jamie Felzer
“Adolescent Brain Development, Decision making, and Alcohol Abuse and Dependence” NIAAA Research. November 2007.
“Why do Adolescents drink, What are the Risks, and How can Underage Drinking be prevented?” Alcohol Alert. January 2006, 67