Getting to Know Why Problem Drinking In Teenagers is an Issue

Most people rarely assume that alcoholics could be teenage high school students or even themselves. Alcohol abuse has become rampant among teenagers today with roughly 80% of high school students reporting of drinking alcohol and more than 40% of them reporting to have drunk alcohol before 8th grade. The United States Department of Health and Human Services has found that there are more than ten million teenagers reported to be drinking alcohol on a regular basis. People rarely suspect that teenagers could be heavy drinkers, but out of the ten million drinking teens in the United States, more than 20% participate in binge drinking regularly. Over 6% of these 10 million teens are grouped as heavy drinkers based on studies conducted by the Department of Health Human Services.

This means that 600,000 teens in the United States who are heavy drinkers may have an alcohol addiction problem or alcohol dependency. This also means that hundreds of thousands of teenagers who engage in binge drinking are also at risk of developing addiction. Teenagers with an alcohol addiction have a higher risk of getting serious health problems and reestablishing any addictive behaviors, which can be incorporated within them. Teenage drinking causes more than 5000 teenage deaths every year and teenagers who are heavy drinkers risk falling into this statistic.

Teenagers probably experience many times when they are under some pressure to consume alcohol. It might seem that all their friends are doing it and seem to be enjoying a good time when they do so. Teenage drinking can also be the result of not wanting to feel left out at social gatherings or parties they attend which mainly appear to include drinking. Getting involved with drinking is part of growing up but this can generate a serious problem for others. Certain factors also increase the likelihood for teenagers to develop issues with alcohol, full-blown alcoholism included.

You may not be able to pinpoint a specific reason why teenagers start drinking as it could start with the mere desire or curiosity to fit in with peers. It could also start because they are trying to emulate someone in the family who is a heavy drinker. This could just be a passing phase for some but it is a rite of passage for other teens and it can fused with their social life as they grow up, especially for those who proceed to attend college. Alcohol can be very problematic for very few people. The best way to avoid falling into this category is to educate yourself, and others on the dangers and pressures involved to help you change accordingly.

One of the primary reasons why teen alcoholism is so rampant is peer pressure. A lot of teenagers, especially boys, are highly competitive and as such, will try outperforming each other every chance they get. At this age, drinking games are especially common and they can support the impression that teens drinking alcohol is not a big deal. Those who cannot drink legally can overindulge privately before going out for the night and this is referred to as pre-drinking. It involves a group of friends gathering to share various assortments of alcohol in order to feel a buzz prior to going out to a club or party.

It can be harder to resist joining in when all your friends are drinking. Therefore, the only way to avoid such situations altogether is to avoid spending time with people looking to partake in such activities. Even though it seems like a harsh resolve, it is the best option if you feel like they are constantly pressuring you to drink. Teenagers who are genuinely worried about their drinking habits and are afraid the problem is becoming worse can take this step among others to better themselves.

Factors Contributing Towards Teen Alcohol Abuse

Genetic Factors

Studies indicate that genetic factors contribute to an individual’s vulnerability to the development of alcohol abuse. This is evidenced by the fact that children of parents who are/were alcoholics have a significantly higher chance of becoming alcoholics compared to those whose parents were/are not.

If there is someone in the family who is an alcoholic, particularly a parent, this can greatly affect a teenagers’ correlation with alcohol. If there is a history of alcoholism in the family, then the likelihood of a teenager also becoming an alcoholic is significantly increased. This could mean that it will be important to monitor one’s own drinking to make sure it does not become a problem. The other alternative would be to abstain completely from alcohol. Alcohol abuse can cause life-threatening illnesses and destroy relationships with loved ones. Most teens who grow up in household with alcoholism present usually end up bearing witness to emotional abuse and acts of violence. Observing the consequences of alcoholism first hand can either push you towards such behavior or put you off alcohol entirely.

Biological Markers

Studies show that brain waves generated by a response to particular stimuli can bring about measurable brain activity capable of predicting one’s risk of developing alcoholism. One of the brain waves in these studies is a specific brain wave known as P300 that happens following a stimulus of sound or light by about 300 milliseconds. An individual demonstrating lower P300 amplitude will provide an indication of increased likelihood for becoming an alcoholic. This is especially true for sons with alcoholic fathers. Scientists were able to forecast drug use and alcohol use in preadolescent boys up to four years later at the average age of 16 through the measurement of these P300 brain waves.

Alcohol Advertising

Research conducted to determine the outcome of alcohol advertising on children concluded that these ads could increase positive expectancy concerning alcohol significantly. Alcohol advertising targeted at teenagers was found to increase the child’s intention to indulge as an adult as well as influence their alcoholic brand preferences.

Childhood Trauma

Traumatic events such as child abuse also pose as a risk factor for the development of alcohol abuse problems among the youth. The chances of witnessing violence, violent victimization, sexual abuse, and physical abuse among teens who undergo treatment for alcohol abuse are much higher compared to the general adolescent population. Teens in alcohol treatment programs were found to be:

  • More prone to developing PTSD/ Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • 18 times more likely to have experienced sexual abuse
  • 6 times more likely to have undergone physical abuse

Teens undergoing treatment for alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence were more likely to have had PTSD.

Positive Alcohol Expectancy

Studies indicate that teens have a higher likelihood of starting drinking once they develop positive expectancies regarding drinking. Such positive expectancies about alcohol typically increase as they become older and they can offer a prediction of the onset of problem drinking among the youth.

Peers, Family Environment, and Parenting

Parents have such a huge influence on whether a child decides to engage in substance abuse or not. According to research, parents who show favorable attitudes towards to drinking or those who drink are connected to their children starting to drink alcohol or continuing to do so. However, children who are given warnings on the dangers of alcohol consumption by their parents have a reduced likelihood of engaging in drinking while underage. This is also true for teens with a close relationship with their parents/guardians. Researchers have linked a lack of parental monitoring, support, and communication to the increased frequency of drunkenness, heavy drinking, and drinking among teenagers. Research has also established a connection between inconsistent, harsh discipline, rejection, and parental hostility and teen drinking and alcohol-related issues. Teens have a higher likelihood of drinking if their peers are also indulging but even the acceptance of drinking among peers can influence the child’s decision to start drinking alcohol.

Psychiatric Disorders

Several research studies have formed a connection between various psychiatric disorders and alcohol consumption in young adults and teenagers.

  • College students with alcohol abuse problems were four times more likely to suffer from a major depressive disorder
  • College freshmen suffering from anxiety disorders had two times of a higher chance of having severe alcohol use disorders in comparison to those without anxiety
  • Boys aged 6 to 17 with ADHD and weak social relationships had a significantly higher likelihood of developing severe problems with alcohol abuse only 4 years later.
  • Teens who are heavy drinkers have a higher likelihood of having conduct disorders

Childhood Behavior

Behavioral patterns established during early childhood have also been found to be indicators of drinking problems later in life. Children at age 3 who were categorizes as distractible, restless, or impulsive had two times of a higher chance of being diagnosed with alcohol use disorders once they reached age 21. This is in comparison to 3-year-olds who were categorized as well-adjusted or “inhibited”. Children exhibiting aggressiveness from as early as age 5-10 have a higher chance of using alcohol and other drugs during their teenage years. Children exhibiting antisocial behavior have a higher likelihood of developing alcohol-related problems and severe alcohol abuse disorders during adolescence and adulthood respectively.

The one thing that most people dealing with alcohol struggle with includes the social stigma associated with anyone who does not drink at all. The current society seems to glorify drinking and idolize those who partake in alcohol, which may add to the pressure one is already experiencing due to their consumption level. Part of dealing with the issue involves accepting different view concerning alcohol and becoming completely aware of the problems it may cause to one’s well being and health. You should also get to know about the effects drinking can have on the people around you, especially family members and friends. In most cases, those closest to the individual will see the changes that alcohol addiction has brought upon the person that he or she cannot see.

Physical effects of Alcohol Abuse In Teens

Most people are familiar with the short term effects brought about by alcohol on the body. Alcohol depresses the Central Nervous System, which is why when a person drinks, he or she will feel good. The person will become intoxicated once the alcohol gains entry into the bloodstream to be transported to the brain. The individual then loses his/her sense coordination and has difficulty concentrating on things. Judgment becomes impaired and the person can even feel sleepy. The side effects of taking alcohol might seem temporary and fun to the average drinking teenager and even the unpleasant side effects of getting drunk such as vomiting will only last for a short period.

Heavy and prolonged alcohol use will affects teenagers in various ways. Their young bodies are still developing and growing and the introduction of alcohol into the body will disrupt this natural development. It will also interfere with normal organ functioning, bone and tissue growth, as well as the nervous system.

Alcohol may also have long-term effects on the brain of a young person indulging in alcohol. A teenager’s brain is not completely developed until they he or she reaches their 20s. Teenagers who introduce alcohol into their systems on a regular basis risk damaging their brains and this can manifest into reduced ability to concentrate, memory, and intellectual capacity. The bad news is that such harmful changes to the brain can be permanent. Additionally, alcohol also affects organs such as the liver and influences hormone levels. Research indicates that teenage alcohol consumption may disrupt the production of testosterone and estrogen in pubescent teens. This can affect their reproductive system development in the long run. Factors that may affect whether alcohol has a long-term influence on the brain include:

  • General health
  • Alcohol consumption frequency
  • Family history
  • Genetics
  • Age when one started drinking
  • Gender
  • Amount consumed

Behavior Problems and Teen Drinking

Teenage drinking can result in behavioral issues and problems with behavioral control. SAMHSA or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that adolescents between ages 12-17 who are frequent alcohol users had a higher likelihood of reporting behavioral issues, particularly criminal, delinquent, or aggressive behavior.

There is a strong evident correlation between behavioral or emotional problems and alcohol use according to adolescent self-reporting. This includes:

  • Feelings of depression
  • Skipping school
  • Driving while under substance influence
  • Stealing
  • Fighting

Illegal Use of Drugs

Teenage drinkers whether light, binge, or heavy drinkers reported a higher likelihood of using illicit drugs in comparison to non-drinking teenagers. Current heavy drinkers were reported to be 16 times more likely to have used illicit drugs in the previous month compared to non-drinkers. Light drinkers, on the other hand, were 8 times more likely to have taken illicit drugs compared to non-drinking teens.

A Cry For Help

Parents should look out for alcohol use in their children because it is usually a cry for help or a warning indication that there is something going on with the child. If caring adults in their lives such as teachers, counselors, or parents reach the children in time, they will be able to intervene before these troubling behaviors result in serious emotional disturbances such as:

  • Suicide
  • Violence
  • Family disagreements
  • Failure in school
  • Illicit drug use

Suicide, Violence, and Crime

When compared to non-drinking teens, teenagers who are heavy drinkers were more likely to:

  • Steal things outside the home
  • Report trying to kill or hurt themselves deliberately
  • Report having gotten into physical altercations
  • Report being involved in the destruction of other people’s property
  • Report having driven while under the influence
  • Run away from home
  • Report having skipped school
  • Have been arrested for breaking the law and charged

Teen drinking is usually categorized into heavy, binge, and light drinking. Heavy teen drinkers are defined to be those who have taken more than five drinks on each occasion on more than five days within the past month. Binge drinkers are defined as those who have taken more than five drinks on more than one occasion but less than four occasions during the past month. Light drinkers are those who have taken no more than five drinks per occasion within the past month. Non-drinkers are those who have not drank alcohol within the past month.

Consequences of Teen Drinking

Many states established their legal drinking age as 18 years in the early 1970s and late 1960s. The notion behind this was that if a person was old enough to be drafted into the army and to fight for the country, they are probably old enough to drink. This caused an almost instantaneous effect evidenced by the dramatic increase of highway deaths and alcohol-related traffic fatalities. Congress, then stepped in to mandate a legal drinking age of 21 nationwide and threatening to retain federal highway funding to any state failing to increase its drinking age. The increased legal drinking age prompted an immediate reduction in alcohol-related highway fatalities, drinking and driving, as well as underage drinking.

Underage drinking can cause problems in the following areas for the individual in question.

  1. Bone and Puberty growth- studies conducted with lab animals indicated that heavy consumption of alcohol in teenagers can cause weaker bones, stagnant bone growth, and a delay in puberty.
  2. Victimization and risky behavior- alcohol use among adolescents in the 10th and 8th grade was found to increase victimization and risky behavior among them especially for 8th
  3. Sexual behavior- underage drinking has not only been correlated to an increase in vulnerability to forced sex but also to increased risky sexual behavior. Teens who engage in more alcohol consumption are more likely to have sex before they reach 16 years of age. They are also less likely to engage in safe sex after consuming alcohol and more likely to engage in sex while drinking.

Talking to Teenagers Regarding Responsible Drinking

Friends, teachers, grandparents, and parents have a very strong influence on the decisions the children in their lives make particularly in their per-pubescent and early teenage years. Research indicated that teenagers from families experiencing problems with alcohol had a lower likelihood of turning to alcohol if they had very organized families, proper coping skills, and felt like they had some form of control over their situations.

Studies also found that the maintenance of family rituals such as the celebration of holidays and the establishment of daily routines could also have an influence in keeping children away from alcohol abuse. It is crucially important to talk to young adults very honestly and openly about alcohol consumption. By delaying the age at which they start drinking, one can reduce their likelihood of becoming problem drinkers. This is more than enough reason to teenagers about drinking. Other reasons are:

  • Underage drinking is not legal
  • Teenagers who take alcohol have a higher likelihood of developing behavioral problems
  • Teens who use tobacco and alcohol have an increased risk of abusing other drugs
  • Drinking can interfere with one’s better judgment making young people more vulnerable to sexual coercion and risky behavior
  • Alcohol is responsible for driver fatalities in automobile accidents in which adolescents ages 15 to 20 are involved
  • Alcohol has multiple harmful effects on their young developing bodies and brains

Start Talking to Them Early

Even though most people know the importance of talking about alcohol consumption with children, they are not always sure of the right age to start this discussion. Teenagers are usually confused and nervous as they face a chance to try alcohol for the first time and they usually want to hear what you think about the subject. Establish this stage early by informing teenagers that they can confide in you about anything without your lecturing or judgment.

Open Up to Them and Listen

Ask them open-ended questions, the answers of which you will listen to without interrupting them.

Talk to them openly about your family history so that if there have been any alcohol problems in your family, they are aware of it. You should also open up about your personal experiences with alcohol.

Establish clear expectations while communicating your values. Teens are less likely to take alcohol if they know that the important adults in their lives feel strongly against it.

Keep your emotions in check if the child tells you something upsetting. Take a deep breath and try to express your feelings positively.

Ask about the child’s friends by expressing interest in getting to know them and their parents better. This will help in gaining a deeper understanding of the child’s world.

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