This article seeks to inform people about alcohol abuse amongst teenagers, which has been and remains a large problem in our society. Research indicates that drinking at an early age is very indicative of alcohol addiction and abuse later in life.
Approximately 40% of teens that start drinking by age 15 will develop some form of alcohol dependency during their lifetime. Depending on your teenager’s genetic make-up, family environment and social factors, you may be able to save them from a lifetime of alcoholism. As parents, it’s crucial to know the health risks, the signs of substance abuse, genetic factors, and methods of prevention.
Alcohol can have lasting health side effects on developing brains and bodies. According to some studies, alcohol consumption during the critical developmental years may have long-term implications including impaired motor skills, memory loss, and poor hand-eye coordination.
Despite often being more destructive than illicit drugs, alcohol is the number one substance teenagers choose to abuse mainly because it is readily available. Alcohol is especially risky for teenagers since they are still developing both physically and mentally. Poor judgment and decision-making skills are typical side-effects of alcohol abuse, and when combined with a growing teenager, can be a recipe for disaster.
Teenagers who engage in alcohol abuse significantly increase their chances of being involved in a car accident, and contracting a sexually transmitted disease; both of which are due to poor judgment and decision-making while under the influence of alcohol. In fact, alcohol-related car accidents are a major cause of death among teens. In a 2003 survey, 32% of drivers ages 16-20 who were killed in automobile accidents had a measureable blood-alcohol level. HIV/AIDS is also more prevalent among teenagers who abuse alcohol; while under the influence, teens are more likely to become targets of violent crimes such as assault and rape.
Many factors influence alcohol abuse among teens including their home life, genetics, education, as well as social influences like peers and media consumption. Studies have shown that genetics play a large role in alcoholism and other forms of addiction. However, if alcoholism runs in your family it does not necessarily dictate your teen’s future; it simply means that they are more susceptible to addiction and need to take precautions. And when dealing with teenagers that are susceptible to alcoholism, prevention and education are crucial to keeping them healthy.
Recent proposals for “drinking learner permits” have been suggested as a means to reduce alcohol abuse among young adults ages 18-20. Such permits would require one to complete an alcohol education class and pass a written test in order to obtain such a permit. With the drinking permit, young adults would be able to legally consume alcohol at limited times, in restricted places, and in moderate amounts. The idea behind this proposal is to gradually introduce responsible alcohol consumption to young adults until they are 21. There are many proponents and adversaries in regards to this proposal who cite the harmful developmental affects of alcohol during the teenage years.
Alcohol abuse among teenagers has been an on-going struggle for decades in this country, and will no doubt continue for decades more. However, most agree that education and early prevention measures are two steps in the right direction toward healthy teens and adults that practice responsible drinking.
Grant, B.F., and Dawson, D.A. Age at onset of alcohol use and its association with DSM-IV alcohol abuse and dependence: Results from the National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey. Journal of Substance Abuse 9:103-110, 1997.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Traffic Safety Factts 2003 Annual Report: Early Edition. Washington, DC: U.S. Dept. of Transportation, 2004.
Hawkins, J.D., Lishner, D.M., Jenson, J.M., & Catalano, R.F. (1987). Deliquents and drugs: What the evidence suggests about prevention and treatment programming. In B.S. Brown & A.R. Mills (Eds.), Youth at high risk for substance abuse. Rockville, MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Hiller-Sturmhofel, S., and Sqartzwelder, H.S. Alcohol’s effects on the adolescent brain: What can be learned from animal models. Alcohol Research & Health 28(4):213-221, 2004/2005.
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