When you think of an alcoholic, you probably envision an old guy who hangs out on the street corner, drinking from an open bottle of liquor and rambling about an imaginary life. You probably don’t think about yourself or one of your high school classmates. Yet, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), there are over 10 million teens who report drinking alcohol regularly. No one likes to classify a teen as an alcoholic. In fact, researchers seem to be particularly disinclined to apply such a stigmatizing label to teen alcohol abuse. Yet, of the more than 10 million teen drinkers in the U.S., over 20 percent regularly engage in binge drinking, and over six percent are classified as heavy drinkers, according to studies by HHS. That means as many as 600,000 kids in the U.S. who drink heavily could have an alcohol dependency or addiction problem, and hundreds of thousands more who binge drink are at risk.
Admitting that you have a problem with alcohol is the first step in getting back on the right track. Teens who are addicted to alcohol are at risk of developing serious health problems and reinforcing addictive behaviors that can become ingrained in them. Underage drinking is also responsible for more than 5,000 teen deaths a year, according to the U.S. Surgeon General, and teens who drink heavily are at greater risk of becoming part of that statistic.
Alcohol abuse does not have to take over your life. If you think you have a problem with alcohol or have tried to stop drinking and found it to be harder than you thought it would be, there is professional help available that can provide the support you need to get back on track.
What Are the Physical Effects?
You are probably most familiar with the short-term effects of alcohol on your body. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. Drinking relaxes you and makes you feel good. You become intoxicated as the alcohol enters your bloodstream and is transported to your brain. Soon, you lose your sense of coordination and have a hard time concentrating. Your judgment becomes impaired, and you may become sleepy. All of these side effects from alcohol seem fun and temporary, and even the bad side effects from getting drunk, like vomiting, only last a short amount of time but more serious side effects exist.
Prolonged and heavy abuse of alcohol affects teens in special ways. A young person’s body is still growing. Introducing alcohol into your body interrupts its natural development, interfering with your nervous system, tissue and bone growth, and proper organ functioning. These effects can be permanent.
Alcohol can also have long-term effects on the brain, particularly on the brain of a young person. A person’s brain isn’t fully developed until his or her 20s. Teens who regularly introduce alcohol into their systems run the risk of brain damage that can manifest in a decrease in intellectual capacity, memory and the ability to concentrate. These changes can be permanent.
Further, alcohol consumption affects your organs, such as your liver, and your hormone levels. In fact, studies have shown that teen alcohol consumption can interfere with the estrogen and testosterone production in pubescent teens, ultimately impacting the development of their reproductive systems. The following factors can influence whether or not alcohol has a long-term effect on your brain:
- Quantity consumed
- Frequency of consumption
- Age when you first started drinking
- Family history
- General health
What Are the Psychological Effects?
Teen alcoholism is particularly dangerous for kids suffering from stress or depression. Alcohol is a depressant that can make you feel even worse. According to studies done by SAMHSA and HHS, alcohol is responsible for approximated 300 teen suicides a year. The Monitoring the Future (MTF) study, conducted by the University of Michigan in 2000, found that high school students who abuse alcohol are twice as likely to have considered suicide, compared to non-drinkers. Heavy drinkers are four times as likely to have attempted suicide.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms?
How do you know if you have a problem with alcohol? There are a number of different signs and symptoms that can indicate an alcohol dependency or addiction problem. The problem can be different for each individual, and researchers cannot say for sure why some people can drink and stop at will, while others have a hard time stopping. Addiction is a complex disease that has individual contributing factors.
The following signs might indicate you need help with an alcohol problem:
- Heavy drinking
- Drinking regularly and for no specific reason
- Drinking by yourself
- Drinking to feel better or to forget a problem
- Becoming disinterested in school or extracurricular activities
- Getting poor grades in classes
- Regularly gulping down your drinks or drinking too quickly
- Lying about your drinking habits
- Drinking first thing in the morning
- Experiencing blackouts as a result of drinking
- Engaging in risky or aggressive behavior while drunk
- Not being able to go an extended period of time without drinking
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop drinking
What Are the Symptoms of Withdrawal?
“If you drink heavily for a prolonged period of time, you may experience withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop drinking.”
If you drink heavily for a prolonged period of time, you may experience withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop drinking. Withdrawal is a combination of side effects that can manifest when you try to stop drinking, but your body still craves alcohol. These side effects can become so bad that they drive you to start drinking again just to get rid of them. Withdrawal is one of the reasons why you may need professional help if you have an alcoholism problem. Common withdrawal symptoms for alcohol addiction include shakes, tremors, sweating, nightmares and vomiting.
What Are Some of the Risk Factors for Alcoholism?
According to the MTF study, teen alcohol drinking begins at age thirteen on average. Preventing teen alcohol drinking is particularly important because the age that kids start drinking affects the likelihood that they will develop an alcohol dependency or addiction in the future. According to a 1997 study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse, teens who begin drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to develop an alcohol dependency than those who begin drinking as adults.
Teen alcohol abuse can also lead to the use of other drugs, such as marijuana and cocaine. Studies have found that teens who abuse alcohol are also more likely to participate in many other types of risky behaviors, such as engaging in unprotected sex and carrying a weapon. Further, teen alcohol abuse is a significant factor in teenage sexual crimes and often responsible for teens reporting sexual activity with multiple partners in higher percentages.
If you feel you have an alcoholism problem, help is just a phone call away. Our treatment specialists can discuss teen alcohol treatment centers with you or your parents and help you decide the best course of action.