What Are the Effects of Alcohol on a Growing Teen?

Despite the fact that statistics in recent years show that teenage drinking has decreased, it is still a significant problem among young people. Alcohol is the most frequently abused substance by teenagers. Pediatric professional journals report that three quarters of teens try alcohol before they reach graduation day. More than half of high school seniors say that they’ve gotten drunk at least once. Teenage consumption of alcohol isn’t just a shame, it has serious repercussions.  Alcohol contributes to more than 30 percent of all teen deaths. Because healthy teens feel invulnerable it is hard to get them to take seriously the long-term risks associated with drinking alcohol. Drinking raises blood pressure and is linked to heart disease. It also raises the risk for developing type II diabetes. Alcohol consumption is also associated with liver damage. A vital organ, the liver is responsible for detoxifying the body as well as the proper absorption of nutrients. Lastly, alcohol and drinking is linked to upper body cancers (neck, head, breast and stomach). Young people have a difficult time gauging the future consequences of poor choices made today.  They might be better able to grasp the reality of more imminent risks associated with drinking, including:

  • Being involved in a car crash – more than one-third of driver deaths (ages 15 to 20) are alcohol-related
  • Being involved in a fight
  • Teens who drink are also more likely to get involved with stealing
  • Skipping school
  • Experiencing a serious fall or drowning – alcohol is implicated in two-fifths of all drowning incidents
  • Teens who drink and smoke tobacco are at an increased risk for using other drugs
  • Sexually transmitted disease or pregnancy via unprotected sex – drinking blunts an already under-developed ability to make good judgments and reason through a situation

The truth is that teens are much more motivated by immediate consequences to behavior. So while teens feel conflicted about their own rapidly changing bodies, they may be concerned to learn that alcohol can interrupt normal development of their secondary sexual traits such as facial and leg hair, breast development and voice change. The longer a teenager goes without drinking, the greater the chances that they will never become a problem drinker. Parents and concerned family members should talk to teens sooner rather than later about any family history of alcohol or drug addiction since there is a strong connection between family history and addiction. Kids also need to hear early and often that parents and other family members consider underage drinking wrong (it is illegal) and dangerous. If parents speak calmly about the risks of alcohol and the importance of family standards and values, there is less chance that a teenager will say yes when offered alcohol.

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