Teenage Drinking: Knowing the Facts and When to Get Help

25 Jun Teenage Drinking: Knowing the Facts and When to Get Help

Alcohol’s pervasive popularity is quite apparent in every stratum of American society.  Today, over 60% of American adults consume at least four alcoholic drinks on a weekly basis, and these numbers have not seen any decline in decades. Despite the ostensible problems that alcohol either directly causes or the tertiary issues, it is associated with, people of the world still chose to consume alcohol regularly and in copious amounts. This widespread social acceptance of alcohol, often seems to ignore the possible direct repercussions to one’s health, to society and the economic issues that stem from rampant use, not to mention all the other issues drinking plays a causal factor in such as unplanned pregnancies, increased STD rates, homicides, violent crimes, suicides, vandalism, car accidents, and alcohol problems with addiction. These issues are only amplified when it comes to teenagers and teen drinking.

A study done on alcoholism in Georgia conducted by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE) discovered that underage drinking costs Georgian citizens more than an estimated $1 billion annually. Such costs include pain and suffering associated with alcohol issues, work loss, and medical care, but the most substantial costs to the state were from alcohol-related traffic accidents and alcohol-related youth violence, which includes homicides, suicides, and aggravated assaults. PIRE estimates that more than 300,000 underage Georgians will regularly consume alcohol and when teenagers drink, it is not to enjoy the taste of the wine, beer, or spirit, but to get drunk and party.

To illustrate this point, when compared to legal drinkers, underage Georgians who drink illegally consume more drinks on average than legal adults, with an average of 3.5 drinks per day; a full two drinks more than the average adult. According to their 2013 survey, “Georgia students in grades 9 to 12 reported the following: 59.2% had at least one drink of alcohol on one or more days during their life. 18.1% had their first drink of alcohol, other than a few sips, before age thirteen. 27.9% had at least one drink of alcohol on one or more occasions in the past 30 days. 13.3% had five or more drinks of alcohol in a row (binge drinking) in the past 30 days.” Despite the state’s best efforts, the underage population is responsible for drinking roughly 10% of all the alcohol sold within Georgia.  

Shockingly, Georgia’s underage alcohol dilemma falls in the lower echelon when compared to states across the nation, ranking as the 33rd state when it comes to youth alcohol figures. Regardless, it poses a significant state-wide threat, that is both economic and societal. If trends continue, more than 1,000 Georgian youth will be admitted for alcohol treatment in 2018 alone, representing more than 5% of all treatment admissions for alcohol addiction within the state. While these figures alone should be quite alarming, it should be noted that those who drink earlier are far more likely to wind up addicted with those who consume alcohol before the age of 15 is four times more likely to develop alcoholism. Because of this, it is vital that you as a parent know the dangers alcohol poses to teens, the signs of addiction and what to do if your teenager is abusing or addicted to alcohol.  

Alcohol and The Teenage Body

The vast majority of alcohols are made up of ethanol and form when yeast ferments the sugars in various foods such as grapes, barley, apples, potatoes, plants or beets. It is referred to as sedative, hypnotic drug that acts as a depressant on the central nervous system. When consumed, roughly 20% of alcohol is directly absorbed from the stomach into the bloodstream. When absorbed, the alcohol’s compounds bind to nerve receptors and mask neurotransmitters’ ability to send or receive action impulses. This numbing effect on the brain slows down response times, cognitive processing, and voluntary muscle movements.

As a result, the body’s ability to process pain is diminished, and the mind’s natural inhibitions are lowered. When this occurs, a teenager’s ability to make wise decisions or act normally in a social setting is severely hampered. It also affects their fine motor skills, limbic systems (emotional core), and interferes with their hypothalamus and pituitary gland, which affects the kidney’s conservation of water.

In smaller doses, it can be a stimulant, encouraging feelings of bliss, euphoria, and energy, but in larger doses can lead to respiratory depression, drowsiness, nausea, coma, and death. These effects are only heightened for teenagers whose bodies and brains are still developing and unable to process the toxins as efficiently as adults.

Negative Long-Term Health Ramifications to Teenage Drinking

Drinking is well known to have severe ramifications to a teenagers short-term and long-term health. Although alcoholism is the most obvious result of underage drinking, there are a whole host of health issues that can last throughout their lifetime. As a parent, it is critical that you understand alcoholism and the effect it has on the body if you want to prevent them from happening to your teen. According to NIAAA, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the following conditions or problems are likely to develop over the long term for teenagers who drink regularly:

  • Brain Degeneration – While heavy alcohol use is damaging to any person’s brain, it is especially harmful to a teenager’s still developing brain. Alcohol abuse damages the frontal lobe of the brain, the area that controls short-term memory, judgment and emotions. Further, regular use in teenagers hampers their ability to form long-term memories, to make wise decisions and to act rationally.
  • Digestive System Damage – Teenage alcohol use harms digestive tract tissue, which in turn, affects how efficiently the body digests food and the number of nutrients the body can absorb. Besides the obvious malnutrition, a damaged digestive system can result in constipation, diarrhea, ulcers, internal bleeding, stomach pains, and hemorrhoids. To make matters even worse, a failed digestive system leaves a teenage body susceptible to developing cancers of the liver, throat, colon, mouth, and esophagus
  • Growth and Endocrine Effects- Both females and males exercising puberty undergo a series of hormonal changes, such as increases in the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone. Such hormones increase the production of other hormones and growth factors that affect teenagers developing organs. Alcohol is known to throw off hormonal balances, which could result in poorly developed muscles, bones, and organs. Further, alcohol consumption adversely harms the growth of both male and female reproductive systems.
  • Heart Damage – Although this generally occurs later in life, chronic teenage drinking increases the risk of developing heart-related issues. Coronary heart disease is the most common since alcohol leads to artery buildups, which decrease oxygen supply to the brain.
  • Liver disease  – Regular alcohol consumption significantly increases the chance of permanent liver damage and or liver disease. As more and more alcohol passes through the liver, the organ becomes less efficient at removing toxic substances. This diminishment in liver function leads to cirrhosis, inflammation, and scarring, which slowly eats away at the liver until it eventually stops functioning.  

Why Your Teen May Begin Drinking

According to most recent studies, approximately one in six Georgian teens binge drinks with more than 90% of the alcohol being consumed by teenagers involving such binge drinking. Despite the prevalence, most parents just do not believe that their child could be engaging in binge drinking. A survey conducted on this matter resulted in only 1% of parents believing their child was binge drinking. Because of this, you should be on the alert and know why many teenagers begin drinking.

  • Expectancies – The way children are raised with expectations or views towards alcohol will often affect their drinking patterns. Youths who think alcohol to be an enjoyable and pleasurable experience, rather than one filled with negative consequences, are far more likely to drink than those who do not. Such beliefs are established very early in life, with most children under ten seeing it in a negative light. This viewpoint naturally shifts somewhat as they age, with their focus moving from the adverse effects to the more positive and arousing results. Parents can influence how their children view alcohol; therefore, it is wise to not be drunk around your children, and to not frame it in a favorable light for as long as possible.  
  • Hereditary Factors – Children of alcoholics are five to ten times more likely to develop alcoholism over the space of their life. There are significant findings that link genetics and other hereditary factors such as personality characteristics to higher rates of alcohol addiction. Children who manifest antisocial behaviors such as hyperactivity, aggressiveness, and disruptiveness, are often at higher risk to develop alcohol problems. 
  • Inquisitiveness – Humans, especially those developing learn through a series of trials and errors. As the teenage brain develops, their curiosity and desire to experience new things or situations, despite any admonitions, overwhelms their fear of repercussions. They have witnessed others drink and observed the changes in them and want to experience the feeling of drunkenness for themselves.
  • Peer pressure/approval – Humans are social beings that work better in groups than in isolation. The teenage years are some of the most important in terms of socialization and during this time, nowhere is it more important for a child to feel like they fit in with the group. Teenagers desire approval and tend to conform to the pack mentality. In order to fit in, many teenagers drink, simply because everyone else is doing it and they do not want to seem uncool, or not normal. Their need for approval and acceptance will often sway them more powerfully than their reticence.
  • Risk-taking – As children transition from adolescence into being young adults, they experience strong physical and emotional changes that go hand in hand with adulthood and an increase of independence. While their brains are developing rapidly, such growth will not finish until their mid 20’s. Impulsive behavior reaches its peak during this period. As a result of this developing brain and growing need for independence, many teenagers will seek out new, exciting or even dangerous situations. Such risk-taking can include experimenting with drugs or alcohol; behaviors they have seen from their parents, friends or in music, television, and movies. Since their brains are not fully developed, teenagers all too often do not realize the possible negative ramifications of such risk-taking behaviors.

What To Do If Your Teen is Addicted?

Even if your teenager is “only” binge drinking, it behooves you as a parent to act immediately. If you do not prevent such behavior, there are a whole host of negative ramifications that can occur in both the short term and long term including alcoholism. Medical professionals classify Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) as a pattern of alcohol consumption that leads to mental health or physical problems. Strictly speaking, it is defined by a person who drinks a lot of alcohol repeatedly over an extended time period and who has difficulty in saying no to a drink, stopping, cutting back on consumption, or who makes negative decisions due to their drinking.

If your teenager manifests the signs of alcohol addiction, various treatment facilities throughout Georgia can help them battle their addiction and get clean. Whether you decide to utilize the services of an inpatient or an outpatient rehab center, it is wise to not simply sweep the matter under the rug or shrug it off by saying, “kids will be kids.” Although many consider alcohol use to be a regular part of growing up, underage drinking is hazardous, not just for the teenager, but for society as a whole. This is evidenced by the sheer number of alcohol-related suicides, injuries, homicides and motor vehicle deaths. The earlier a child begins drinking, the likelier they will develop severe alcohol problems, not to mention all the adverse ramifications that go part and parcel with drinking such as increased risk of sexual activity and a decrease in school and other extracurricular performance. By teaching your children the dangers of alcohol abuse and binge drinking and by being aware of what your teenagers are up to, you can save them from making horrible decisions that could ruin their lives or even cut them short.

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