Children and teens who drink are the cause of great concern among health experts in America. The truth is alcohol is the most commonly used and abused substance among youth, more so than nicotine and illicit drugs.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), those individuals between the ages of 12 to 20 make up approximately 11% of all the alcohol consumed in America. Although this is not a significant number, 90% of this consumption is done via 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 CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System regularly monitors six top risk behaviors that can threaten a teen’s life, including substance use. Risky behaviors regarding alcohol or drug use include having at least one drink during their lifetime, currently drinking on a regular basis, having five or more drinks in a row (binge drinking experiences), trying other drugs such as cocaine, inhalants, heroin, methamphetamines, steroids, or prescription drugs.
Research indicates that drinking is indeed a problem that stretches from coast to coast. In 2013, the CDC found that approximately 35% of teens drank some alcohol, 21% of teens engaged in binge drinking, 10% drove after drinking, and 22% rode with a driver who had been drinking.
Teens who drink alcohol tend to experience the following:
- School problems including higher absences from school.
- Social problems including fighting and lack of participation in after school activities.
- Legal problems including arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol.
- Unwanted, unplanned, and unprotected sexual activity.
- Higher risk for suicide and homicide.
- Memory problems.
- Abuse of other drugs.
- Death from alcohol poisoning.
Furthermore, when teens begin to drink early in life there’s a chance that he or she may continue to drink, and this will likely result in 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.
Because when a teen drinks, he or she is likely to drink more in one sitting than an adult, it’s important to monitor a teen’s use of alcohol. Parents and other caregivers of adolescents can look for the following signs that indicate a teen may be drinking too much:
- 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.
The best way to help prevent drinking among children and teens is to decrease access to alcohol as well as monitor their behavior. Of course, this can be challenging particularly because there is often social pressure among teens to drink at parties and bars. Nonetheless, this is such a significant issue that it’s essential for parents, teachers, and school administrators to do their best in protecting the safety of teens and children.