In the United States, alcohol is a drug that is legally available to people who are at least 21 years of age. Under the current system, teens should not have access to alcohol yet it is widely recognized that many teens have relatively easy access to alcohol. Law enforcement officials have documented that retailers sell alcohol to minors all of the time despite the illegality of the sale, and if a teen can’t buy alcohol from a store that requires the buyer to show proof of age, he or she can often open the refrigerator or liquor cabinet at home to indulge. Where alcohol is concerned, parents often require teens to do what they say and not what they do. It may have occurred to you more than once that if your parents can drink alcohol without the sky falling, it can’t be such a big deal for you to likewise indulge. As a teen, alcohol is most likely an integral part of your social scene, playing a critical role, along with music and a functional location, in making a successful party. In your mind, alcohol is likely not a drug like the marijuana or cocaine that kids do in back rooms or under the stairs. Drinking alcohol is a social activity that makes things more fun, and, besides, everyone does it.
You would be right about the fact that drinking alcohol is a commonplace activity for a majority of teens. According to the Monitoring the Future (MTF) study conducted by the University of Michigan in 2000, more than 80% of high schools seniors report using alcohol at some point in the past, and approximately 62% of seniors have been drunk. Meanwhile, annual surveys by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have established that at least 10 million current alcohol drinkers are teenagers.
According to the U.S. Surgeon General, 5,000 teen deaths each year can be attributed to alcohol consumption. The problem of teenage drinking is so widespread that researchers have started focusing on ways to discourage alcohol abuse, rather than focusing resources on prevention. Any level of alcohol consumption by a teenager can have devastating health consequences, but binge drinking, also known as drinking to excess and getting drunk, is the most dangerous type of alcohol consumption for you and those around you. Alcohol abuse can lead to long-term physical and mental health problems, dependency, addiction and death.
If you regularly indulge in binge drinking or have a problem with alcohol and want to stop drinking, there is help available that is specific to your age group. Many kids your age have conquered alcohol dependency with professional help.
What Is Binge Drinking?
Binge drinking is typically defined as drinking five or more drinks within approximately two hours. The MTF study found that teens are more likely than adults to engage in binge drinking. Nearly 30% of high school seniors report engaging in heavy binge drinking, and nearly one out of every five teenagers report experiencing blackouts and memory loss as a result of heavy drinking.
Does Drinking Alcohol Impact my Health?
Teens are particularly susceptible to negative health consequences from drinking alcohol. Your body is still developing, and introducing alcohol into your system can retard your body’s growth and maturation. Alcohol can affect your health in the following ways:
- Brain: Alcohol can have a long-term impact on your brain’s ability to learn. A person’s brain continues to develop into his or her 20s. Introducing alcohol into your system while your brain is still in a formative stage can cause you to have concentration and memory problems that persist even after you stop drinking heavily.
- Liver: Alcohol can elevate liver enzymes in teens, which is a sign of liver damage. Overweight teens have an increased likelihood of developing these enzymes even with moderate levels of drinking.
- Hormone levels: Alcohol can affect the levels of estrogen and testosterone in teens. These hormones and others control normal growth and the development of your organs. Studies have shown that the reproductive systems of teens who drink alcohol are particularly susceptible to the dangers of alcohol use.
- Psychological effects: Teens who start drinking alcohol at a young age are more likely to develop alcoholism as adults. The younger you are when you start drinking, the higher the likelihood that you will become dependent on or addicted to alcohol in later years.
What Are the Dangers of Drinking and Driving?
You should never drink and drive. Car crashes are the leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 20. Approximately 1,900 teens die every year from car crashes involving underage drinking.
What Are Some of the Other Risk Factors Associated With Drinking Alcohol?
If you are considering alcohol consumption as a way to have fun or feel you may be caving to peer pressure, there are additional bad effects of alcohol use that you should consider before you make your decision:
- Drunk teens are more likely to engage in risky sexual activities, such as having sex with someone they don’t know or failing to use birth control.
- Studies show that alcohol use is implicated in a majority of sexual assault and date rape cases, and teens who drink heavily are more likely to report instances of having sex with six or more partners.
- Teens who drink alcohol are more likely to use other drugs, such as cocaine and marijuana.
- Drinking alcohol can negatively affect your academic performance.
Preventing teen drinking is part of the national agenda, but your own issues with alcohol are personal and need to be addressed on an individual basis.