Health Effects of Teen Alcohol Use
School pressures, peer pressures and identity issues all create the perfect storm for teen alcohol use behaviors to take root. This coupled with the rampant hormonal changes going on during this time of life leave teenagers highly susceptible to the allures of drinking.
Teen alcohol use has reached epidemic proportions, with nearly half of all eighth graders having tried alcohol on at least one occasion, while 20 percent those who tried it report having been “drunk” in the process. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, alcohol use among teens exceeds usage rates for both tobacco and other addictive drug types with teenagers accounting for 11 percent of all alcohol consumed
The health effects of teen alcohol use are many, ranging from alcohol’s impact on growth and development to the bottomless pit of addiction. Knowing the health implications of teen alcohol use can better equip parents and teens on how to prevent and/or stop this deadly habit from taking over a young person’s life.
Alcohol’s effects on the body can be far-reaching, especially during adolescence when major systems of the body are developing. Alcohol’s most pronounced effect works at slowing down chemical processes throughout the brain and body.
Not unlike opiate drugs, alcohol interferes with the body’s ability to send messages to the brain and vice versa. Ultimately, alcohol destabilizes the chemical systems that enable the brain and body to work together.
Alcohol’s initial effects take place in the brain where it targets neurotransmitter producing brain cell sites. With each drink, alcohol alters glutamate and GABA neurotransmitter levels in the following ways –
- Suppresses glutamate producing cell sites
- Increases output for GABA producing cell sites
The overall effect of these changes slows brain electrical activity. Slowed electrical activity inevitably compromises the brain’s ability to function as normal, especially when large amounts of alcohol are consumed at a time, or on a frequent basis.
Teen alcohol use behaviors open the door for alcohol’s effects to all but hijack teen growth and development on multiple levels. In effect, the health effects experienced by adults from drinking pale in comparison to those brought on by teen alcohol use.
Effects on Growth & Development
For the most part, biochemical changes drive the growth and developmental stages that take place during the teenage years, with hormones taking front and center stage. Hormones regulate a person’s emotions, cognitive abilities as well as his or her ability to handle stress.
The stress that comes with adolescence can easily tip the scales in terms of a teen’s ability to cope with everyday life in light of the hormonal changes taking place. According to the U. S. National Library of Medicine, teen alcohol use only works to aggravate this delicate transition period, making the emotional and psychological changes experienced during adolescence all the more difficult to bear.
Under these conditions, a vicious cycle of stress and teen alcohol use can easily take hold, driving consumption amounts higher and higher. With excess or binge drinking, alcohol absorbs into body cells and tissues and essentially rots cell structures from the inside out.
In the case of teen alcohol use, this type of drinking behavior can bring on health problems and increase a teen’s likelihood of becoming overweight. Over time, alcohol’s effects can cause serious damage to the liver, heart and brain.
The brain undergoes considerable change and development in adolescence, with major neural pathways taking shape during this time. According to the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, dramatic changes in brain structure and physiology can continue well into a person’s 20s.
Alcohol’s ability to deteriorate brain cell structures can greatly impair overall brain development and function throughout the teenage years. Teen alcohol use warps a teen’s overall psychological make-up as his or her cognitive abilities see ongoing decline. In effect, a teen’s ability to think rationally and make good decisions becomes severely compromised with ongoing teen alcohol use.
Teens must endure sporadic shifts in hormone levels on a continuous basis, which can have drastic effects on their emotional stability and ability to cope. Teen alcohol use only works to aggravate an already volatile state of affairs.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism, teen alcohol use ranks as the third leading cause of suicide among teens aged 14 to 25. The effects of alcohol on limbic (emotions) system development can quickly spiral out of control, especially when depression and anxiety disorders start to develop.
Over time, alcohol’s effects on brain function and development start to show up in a teen’s daily behaviors and priorities. Impulse control issues develop as alcohol’s effects continue to impair cognitive and limbic system functions.
Overall, the behavioral effects of teen alcohol use pose the greatest threat to a teen’s immediate safety and well-being. Negative consequences from teen alcohol use can range anywhere from life-changing to deadly, some of which include –
- Casual sexual encounters
- Contracting sexually transmitted diseases, such as hepatitis and HIV
- Getting expelled from school
- Failing out of school
- Car accidents
- Criminal activity
Teen alcohol abuse behaviors often involve consuming large quantities of alcohol at once, a practice known as bingeing. Bingeing entails consuming five or more drinks at time, oftentimes leading to blackout episodes where teens can’t remember what transpired while intoxicated.
On average, the body can only process or metabolize one drink per hour. Amounts exceeding this rate are left to travel the bloodstream until the body’s metabolism processes can catch up. Before long, symptoms of alcohol poisoning can develop once blood-alcohol levels exceed a certain point.
Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include –
- Loss of consciousness
- Skin becomes cold to the touch
- Skin discoloration, taking on a bluish-type tint
- Alcohol odors on the breath or through the skin
The likelihood of developing an alcohol dependence disorder increases fourfold for adults who begin drinking before the age of 15 compared to those who don’t drink during their teen years. Alcohol has a cumulative effect on the body, and even more so when drinking interferes with growth and development stages during adolescence.
Whether you’re a parent concerned about a teen or a teen concerned about a growing drinking problem, the sooner you take steps to get help the better.