In the United States, most teenagers have tried alcohol even before they enter high school. In fact, alcohol is one of the most highly abused substances among youths in the United States. There are many factors that could trigger underage drinking. Some do it because they think it will help them survive pain, while others may feel pressure from their friends.
Teenage alcoholism could cause various risks and health issues. These factors can alter the entire life of a teenager. Studies show that people drinking alcohol before reaching the legal age (21 in the United States) are at greater risk of suffering alcohol abuse disorder. They are also more likely to become involved in vehicular accidents or become the victims or perpetrators of crimes.
Research has revealed that teenagers are vulnerable to abuse alcohol. This is because, at this stage, their brains are still in the process of development. During these years, the pleasure centers of their brains mature faster than the parts of their brains responsible for making good judgments. Adolescents who are heavy drinkers may also be prone to brain damage later in their lives.
Besides affecting brain development, alcohol can interfere with its functionality. Differences in motor skills, memory, and coordination are common signs of alcohol addiction among teenagers. Aside from the ill effects on individual health, underage drinking can also affect society as a whole. Common problems caused by teenage drinking include fighting and aggression, sexual assaults, and vehicular accidents.
Risk Factors for Young Drinkers
There is no single cause of teenage alcoholism. But there are several factors that could aggravate the risk of developing this disease. Teenagers are sometimes impulsive because their brains are not developed enough to control their urges. Because of this, they may be more susceptible to behaviors such as binge drinking (drinking a lot of alcohol in a short amount of time).
Many teenagers are not aware of the consequences of their actions, including those of drinking. Delayed puberty and brain damage may be some of the negative effects of underage drinking. Teenagers may be at risk for alcohol disorder if they:
- Experience peer pressure or stress
- Have low self-esteem
- Live with or have relatives and other people in their lives who abuse alcohol or drugs
- Live in a culture where alcohol use is acceptable and common
- Have a mental health problem such as anxiety, depression, or an eating disorder
- Are an Alaskan or a Native American
- Are a male who consumes more than 15 drinks every week
- Are a female who consumes more than 12 drinks every week
- Consume more than five drinks every day
Today, it is widely accepted that alcohol or drug misuse are not the results of one lone factor.
Some people claim that genetics plays a large role in the addiction of teenagers. This theory states that some people have certain genes that may predispose them to substance abuse. Teenagers born to families who have members struggling with substance abuse are more likely to become addicts themselves.
This theory does not claim that people with such genes or backgrounds will automatically abuse substances, just that they have a higher likelihood to do so. Of course, there are also people who abuse substances even without a history of addiction in their families.
External Pressure and Environment
Teenagers under extreme stress and pressure may be more likely to use alcohol and drugs in order to cope. Home environment might also be a contributing factor. And as mentioned above, teenagers raised in families where alcoholism or addiction is present are more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs.
Frequent and constant consumption of alcohol can drastically alter the function of the brain. Since teenagers’ brains are still in the process of developing, if they abuse alcohol and do not stop and/or receive proper treatment, the alcohol-related changes could trigger drug and alcohol addiction.