We already know that alcohol misuse and abuse can have very unpleasant side effects for adults. But what about teenagers? Well, teenagers are not immune to the dangers of alcohol use either. In fact, because their minds and bodies are still developing, the effects of alcohol on teenagers can be even more profound. This is why experts recommend that an entirely alcohol-free childhood is the most effective way to ensure kids do not have problems as a result of drinking.
As far as the numbers are concerned:
- 43% of kids between 11 and 15 have used alcohol at least once
- almost 65,000 teenagers every year are treated by hospitals for drinking-related problems
- teenagers in the UK are the most likely in all of Europe to be heavy drinkers and to experience regular problems as a result of their drinking.
The effects of alcohol abuse on teenagers are very clearly observed by medical professionals. Those effects cover a broad range of areas including physical health, mental health, and the likelihood of developing more severe alcohol problems as adults.
Teenage Drinking and Physical Health
Teenagers are at a unique place in their physiological development from about age 11 to 19. It is during this time that the body undergoes its most significant changes as it transitions from childhood to adulthood. As such, any of the adverse physical effects of alcohol is exacerbated. Excessive drinking is significantly more dangerous, physically speaking, for teenagers as compared to adults.
For example, teenagers who drink are more likely to suffer from common conditions like insomnia, weight loss, and changes in appetite. All three of these conditions can lead to more serious problems ranging from excessive weight gain to heart disease to diabetes. But that’s just the start.
Teenagers are not immune to diseases like cirrhosis and cancer. In fact, the number of teenagers now being treated for these more serious diseases due to their drinking habits is on the rise. The problem that teenagers face in this regard is one of their body’s reduced ability to metabolise alcohol at the same rate an adult body can. Slower metabolism means there is more alcohol in the system capable of doing damage.
Alcohol poisoning is a very clear example of how a slower metabolism in teenagers causes a problem. Alcohol poisoning occurs when there is too much alcohol in the system to process safely. It causes a range of symptoms including nausea, vomiting, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, seizures and hypothermia. It can result in death if the poisoning is serious enough.
Teenage Drinking and Mental Health
Science is proving that alcohol has a very definite impact on the brain. Some of the effects of alcohol are temporary while others can be permanent. For example, did you know that excessive alcohol consumption kills certain kinds of brain cells? That kind of physical damage can have long-lasting effects on the thought patterns, emotions, cognitive function, and more.
You need to know that drinking among teenagers can lead to:
- Long-Term Impairment – Teenagers who drink are more likely to suffer long-term impairment of both memory and cognitive function.
- Mental Illness – There is a very definite link between alcohol consumption and mental illness. Teens who drink are more likely to develop clinical depression, clinical anxiety, co-dependency, and other serious mental illnesses.
- Behavioural Issues – Anyone who drinks excessively is at risk of engaging in behaviours that would otherwise not be considered. This is particularly the case in teenagers. When teens drink, they are more likely to be antisocial and/or violent. They are also more liable to have trouble getting along with their peers while drinking.
Some of the mental damage done by alcohol can be reversed through rehab and counselling. Some of it cannot. Why would anyone want to take that risk? It is simply not reasonable to risk long-term memory and cognition problems just to enjoy drinking as a teen. Yet so many still do.
Future Alcohol Problems
We know that alcohol addiction tends to run in families. However, the reason behind this is more than mere genetics. The reality is that children learn from the behaviours of their parents, so alcoholics are likely to produce children who become alcoholics themselves as adults.
Teenage drinking does, without a doubt, increase the risk that a child will develop serious drinking problems as an adult. In fact, the younger a child is when he or she begins drinking, the greater the likelihood future alcohol problems will develop. The minds and bodies of children simply cannot tolerate alcohol well enough to make drinking safe.
Other Things to Consider
We have established that drinking among teens can have negative consequences relating to physical health, mental health, and the likelihood of developing future alcohol problems. We are not done yet. There are a number of other things to consider here as well.
First of all, teenagers who drink are more likely to engage in risky behaviour that could result in injury and death. Drink driving is an excellent example. Imagine your own child spending hours drinking with friends before getting in a car to drive home. Teenagers already consider themselves invincible for the most part, so drink driving is not that big a deal to them. But thousands of teens die every year as a result of this dangerous behaviour.
How about teenage sexual activity? Alcohol plays a significant role here as well. Studies show that teenage drinkers are more likely to engage in sexual activity at a younger age. They are more likely to contract sexually transmitted diseases, they are more likely to engage in unprotected sex, and they are more likely to produce an unplanned pregnancy.
The picture we have painted is not a pretty one, but it is reality. The negative effects of alcohol on teenagers are very real and unpleasant. If your teenager has never had a drink, your best bet is to make sure nothing changes until adulthood. If your teenager is already drinking, now is the time to get him or her the necessary help to stop drinking.