Teen Alcohol Abuse: Underage Drinking Poses Significant Risks

Teens who are drinking obvious do so illegally. Underage drinking poses certain risks to adolescents, primarily because their brains are still in its development. When teens begin to drink, they rarely recognize the effects on their families, peers, and on their own lives. In fact, because of the damaging effects of underage drinking, the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recognizes teen alcohol abuse as a “widespread public health problem”.


And research indicates that it is indeed a problem that stretches from coast to coast. In 2009, about 10.4 million teens reported having more than just a few sips of alcohol. Plus, although teens drink less often than adults, studies indicate that when teens do drink, they drink more. For instance, in a recent study done by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), researchers found that one in five high school females engage in binge drinking. Binge drinking is defined as drinking four or more drinks during one event for females, and for male teens, binge drinking is consuming five or more drinks. Sadly, the rates of teens who are binge drinking remain alarmingly high.


The following breakdown resulted from the study:

  • 45% of 9th graders admitted to binge drinking
  • 50% of 10th graders admitted to binge drinking
  • 58% of 11th graders admitted to binge drinking
  • 62% of 12th graders admitted to binge drinking


It goes without saying that drinking heavily is going to have some medical consequences. The body will begin to deteriorate in a variety of ways. For instance, long-term alcohol consumption can affect nearly every organ in the body. Heavy drinking can affect coordination, thiamine deficiency, and other forms of poor nutrition. Alcoholism can lead to illnesses having to do with the heart, such as hypertension and an irregular heartbeat. It can also cause impotence, irregular menstrual cycles, pancreatitis, stroke, confusion, and amnesia. Other illness associated with chronic heavy drinking include:

  • Cancer
  • Cirrhosis
  • Dementia
  • Depression
  • Seizures
  • Gout
  • High blood Pressure
  • Nerve Damage
  • Alcohol Poisoning
  • Addiction
  • Heart Disease


Furthermore, alcohol abuse impedes nutrient breakdown and impairs a teen’s ability to assimilate those nutrients. Also, when an adolescent engages in alcohol abuse and he or she is at the height of their addiction, 50 percent of their calorie intake is derived from the drinking. The damage to the body, not only because of the addiction but also because of poor eating habits that result from drinking has led many teen rehabilitative treatment centers to include nutritional counseling in their treatment plan.


Binge drinking among teens and underage drinking in general can lead to:


Death: About 5,000 individuals under the age of 21 die each year from alcohol related car crashes, homicide, suicide, and alcohol poisoning.


Serious Injury: Over 190,000 individuals under the age of 21 have visited an emergency room for alcohol related injuries in 2008 alone.


Impaired Judgment: Drinking can lead to poor decision making, which leads to risky behavior, such as fast driving, sexual activity, and violence.


Increased Risk for Physical/Sexual Assault: Research indicates that teens who drink are more likely to be the victim or the perpetrator in a physical or sexual assault.


Signs that a teen may be drinking too much and too often include:


  • Academic/behavioral problems in school
  • Changing groups of friends
  • Less interested in activities and/or appearance.
  • Finding alcohol in a teen’s room or smelling it on his or her breath.
  • Slurred speech
  • Coordination problems.
  • Memory or concentration is impaired.


It’s clear that teen alcohol abuse can cause significant health and life concerns. If you or someone you know is drinking, don’t hesitate to contact an adult you trust or a mental health professional.