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Teen Alcohol Abuse – What Are The Health Risks?

Lisa Taylor
Lisa TaylorAddiction Counsellor

Young people and alcohol are not a good pairing. Alcohol affects how the body functions in ways that can be potentially dangerous to adults; those dangers are only amplified for teenagers and pre-teens. The unfortunate truth is that teen alcohol abuse is way too common in this country. Teens are drinking and suffering serious health problems because of it.

Whether you are a parent or teenager, you need to know the health risks inherent in underage drinking. Please understand that the laws regarding drinking by minors have nothing to do with adults wanting to keep all the fun to themselves. It has to do with physical development and how alcohol harms that development.

The typical pre-teen enters a growth spurt somewhere between the ages of nine and 12; growth and development typically continue through the late teens and into the early 20s. Alcohol can adversely affect teen development in ways that adults do not have to worry about. Teens should not, under any circumstances, misuse or abuse alcohol.

Below is a list of the health risks associated with teenage drinking. Information and statistics are from the Drink Aware charity's website.

Acute Liver Damage

Consistent drinking is bad for the liver, regardless of age. In teens, the liver is especially susceptible to alcohol abuse as the body is trying to make sense of hormonal changes. The problem with liver damage is that the symptoms do not begin appearing until several years after the damage has started. According to Drink Aware, people in the UK die in their 20s as a result of alcohol-induced liver damage. That means they likely began abusing alcohol as teenagers.

Brain Development

A child's brain is rapidly developing during the pre-teen and teen years. This is one of the reasons teens regularly experience emotional distress and changing thought patterns. Introducing alcohol at this stage is extremely dangerous. It can interfere with proper development of the brain, eventually leading to all sorts of permanent problems including reduced attention span, inability to concentrate, ineffective memory, reduced reaction times, and learning disabilities.

When teenagers drink enough to become physically and psychologically dependent, the chances of additional problems go up. For example, depression is relatively common among young people who drink excessively.

Mental Health Problems

Abnormal brain development and mental health problems often go hand-in-hand with alcohol consumption among teenagers. Dual diagnosis scenarios are all-too-frequent, with teenage drinkers also suffering from disorders including anxiety, depression, and self-harm compulsions. Anyone who believes teenage drinking is a harmless past time that will not have any long-lasting effects is simply wrong. The risks are very real.

Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol poisoning is a condition in which the amount of alcohol in the body is so high that the brain can no longer function properly. The victim's body starts shutting down as a result. Some victims will stop breathing while others may suffer cardiac arrest, convulsions, or serious seizures.

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According to Drink Aware, some 4,000 teenagers are admitted to hospitals every year as a result of alcohol poisoning. Some of them die. The biggest danger of alcohol poisoning is that no one knows how serious the problem is until the victim passes out and stops responding. By the time that happens, serious injury and/or death could be just moments away. As for teenagers, they are once again more susceptible to alcohol poisoning because their bodies are still in the development stage.

Accidents and Injuries

Regardless of a person's age, alcohol influences both behaviour and physical reactions. Someone under the influence of drink is more likely to take risks that could result in accidents and injuries. Drink Aware says this is especially true for teenagers. Teens who drink are more likely to be involved in drink-driving accidents; they are more likely to be involved in accidents in general. Those who admit to regular drinking have a higher incidence of personal injuries not related to driving as well.

Violence and Aggressive Behaviour

Because a child's brain is still developing, kids are more likely to be impacted by alcohol in ways that make them more aggressive and violent. Statistics show that teens who use alcohol are more likely to be involved in fights; they are also more liable to be the victim of other aggressors who may be involved in criminal behaviour. Furthermore, teens who drink are more likely to be aggressive criminals themselves.

Gateway Drug Use

As Drink Aware explains, alcohol abuse among teenagers is a serious enough problem by itself. However, statistics routinely show that kids who drink are more likely to eventually move on to other drugs, including cannabis. Even more frightening is the fact that statistics show these kinds of kids don't even have to be alcohol abusers or alcoholics. Just one incident of drunkenness increases a teenager's likelihood of trying other drugs.

General Health Issues

Teen alcohol abuse has an interesting effect on its victims inasmuch as those who are drinking quickly lose any concern over their general health. Teenage drinkers are more likely to gain weight, eat poorly, get little exercise, and engage in activities that are generally unhealthy. Smoking is a good example.

All of this is exacerbated by a lack of concern for one's personal appearance. Teenage drinkers are less likely to bathe regularly or make sure their clothes are clean. They also show less interest in taking care of themselves when they are sick. All of this leads to a generally unhealthy lifestyle that can only mean bad things down the road.

If that's not enough, prolonged drinking can result in high blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, and certain kinds of cardiovascular issues. Again, these issues can be worse in teenagers because their bodies are still developing.

Best Option: Don't Drink

Parents and teens can debate the topic of teen alcohol abuse and how to regulate alcohol consumption to prevent it. In the end, however, the best option is to simply not drink. Anyone who is under age should simply avoid alcohol consumption in all forms. There's no reason to start drinking as a teen or pre-teen; at least no reason that makes legitimate sense.

The truth is that young people and alcohol do not mix. As a parent, think twice before you offer your child a taste of your beer or wine. It only takes one taste to encourage your teenager to start drinking outside of the home. It also does not take much for casual drinking to become alcohol abuse and eventual addiction.

As a teenager, you also need to think twice. Is there any real need for you to try alcohol at your age? What possible benefit could you derive from it, other than perceived acceptance among your peers? And as long as we are on the subject, any of your peers who would lose respect for you because you do not drink are kids you don't want to be hanging around with anyway.

We are an independent organisation offering free advice, alcohol assessment, and referrals to treatment providers. If you or one of your children is suffering from an alcohol problem, we want to come alongside and offer our assistance. We can help you figure out what's going on before providing you with a full range of treatment options in your local area. In addition to being free, our services are also completely confidential. No one needs to know you contacted us unless you decide to make it public.

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