Teen Alcohol Abuse

Many teens, and even some parents, don't see underage drinking as a problem. But the facts are the same; alcohol is a drug. The physical and mental affects on teenage drinkers are significant. Learn what you can do to help prevent teen alcohol abuse.

The drug most frequently used by teenagers is something that many of us do not even think of as a drug at all: Alcohol. Teen alcohol use is more common than teen marijuana use, and more common than teen tobacco use. According to MedicineNet.com, close to half of teens have a drink of alcohol on a monthly basis. About 14 percent of them have been drunk at least once in the past year. And eight percent of teenagers admit to binge drinking.

Teen alcohol use is common at parties, and the recent trend toward parents hosting their teens and their friends for drinking has not been helping matters. Alcohol can be especially dangerous when combined with other substances (prescription drugs are popular at parties now).

Effects of teen alcohol abuse

Many people think that because most adults have a glass of wine or a can of beer on a regular basis, alcohol is not terribly dangerous. The big danger comes when teens follow their impulsive natures and drink a great deal. Their bodies are not used to the alcohol, and the effects on their still-developing brains can also be strong. Here are some of the ways that teen alcohol abuse presents a danger:

Decrease in ability to pay attention. Alcohol affects judgment and attention. Teens may become easily distracted, or make poor decisions. This inability to pay attention and the impaired judgment contributes to the fact that nearly 2,000 people under the age of 21 are killed each year due to car accidents involving underage drinking.

Reduced inhibitions. This goes along with decreased ability to pay attention and a decrease in judgment. Inhibitions are broken down, and teenagers are more likely to have unprotected sex when drunk. This can lead to sexually transmitted diseases and to teen pregnancy. Another problem is that alcohol reduces the ability to defend oneself, making teen girls (especially) prone to being raped while intoxicated.

Mental health issues. Not only can excessive drinking serve as a mask for depression and anxiety - as a form of self-medication, but it can also cause mental health issues in teens. Teenagers’ brains are still developing, and alcohol use can affect mental health.

Other drug use. Studies have shown that alcohol abuse can serve as a gateway to use additional substances, including illegal drugs.

Long-term health effects. In addition to short-term effects, teen alcohol use can have long-term health effects. Alcohol use contributes to heart problems, as well as liver disease. Alcohol can also result in memory loss (long and short term) and injuries sustained from alcohol-related accidents can affect someone for life. And alcohol can be an addictive substance. Tolerance can build as well, requiring that more and more alcohol be taken in order to achieve the same effects. This can lead to overdose and alcohol poisoning.

Indications of teen alcohol use

It is important to be on the watch for teen alcohol abuse, as well as occasional intoxication. Some of the signs of teen alcohol use include:

  • Smell of alcohol on breath, skin and/or clothing.
  • Alcohol containers in the car, littering the curb or in the trash cans.
  • Bloodshot eyes.
  • Lack of interest in activities once enjoyed.
  • Unusual aggressiveness.
  • Unusual passivity.
  • Deterioration in hygiene.
  • Changes in sleeping patterns.
  • Complaints of regular headaches in the morning.

It is important to be aware of what is going on with your teenager, and to be involved in his or her life. Catching the signs of teen alcohol use early can ensure that your teenager gets the help he or she needs to overcome the addiction.

Preventing teen alcohol use

One of the most effective ways that parents can prevent teen alcohol abuse is by being involved in their children’s lives. It is important to start when your child is young to talk about alcohol and other substances, as well as to build a bond of trust. It is important to provide supervision for your teenagers, as well as to talk to them about your expectations for their behavior.

It is important to note that teenagers often participate in regular alcohol and other substance abuse between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. This is not a surprise, since these are the hours that teenagers are most often not supervised; school is out and parents are at work. Encouraging wholesome extracurricular activities, sports and part-time jobs can limit the time that teens have to experiment with substances.

Teen alcohol use may seem mostly harmless, but it is not. It is vital that you pay attention, and do what you can to prevent teen alcohol abuse.

Related Article: Effects of Teenage Drug Use >>