by Dr. Jessica Castonguay, Akron Children’s Hospital
Teens experiment with alcohol for a number of reasons. Some may drink to appear older or because of peer pressure. Others may begin using it because of low self-esteem, depression, anxiety or as a coping mechanism if they are facing challenging situations in their homes or at school.
In addition to the effects on the developing brain, alcohol can lead to motor vehicle accidents, violence and poor judgment, especially in sexual situations. Underage drinking is illegal, and the punishment and repercussions for driving under the influence can be severe.
Parents should begin a discussion about alcohol with adolescent children and keep the conversation going through the years. Dr. Jessica Castonguay, an adolescent medicine specialist at Akron Children’s Hospital, provides some tips for those discussions:
You should discuss a plan with your teen on how to respond to the peer pressures to drink.
Let your child know they can call you at any time or place to leave a party and get a ride without consequences. This is especially important when they are in the position of being a driver or of being a passenger in a car with someone who’s been drinking.
Consider your own views regarding alcohol and the kind of behavior you are modeling regarding your own alcohol use.
Keep alcohol in your home in a locked cupboard or in a place where you’d notice if any is missing.
If there is a family history of alcoholism, help your teen understand that they may be at increased risk.
Establish clear rules regarding drinking and make sure they are enforced if your teen breaks the rules.
Know the warning signs of alcohol or substance abuse, including persistent fatigue, declining grades, chronic abdominal pain, headaches, bloodshot eyes and new friends.
If you suspect your teen has a drinking problem, trust your instincts. If they are reluctant to talk to you, enlist the help of their doctor. A doctor can have a private conversation with a teen to find out what might be going on.
Alcohol Abuse Effects
Teens — and their still developing brains — can be especially vulnerable to the dangers of alcohol abuse.
“Our brains continue to mature into our mid 20s, so alcohol abuse can affect the neurological pathways in teens’ developing brains,” Castonguay says.
Studies indicate that the earlier teens start to drink alcohol, the more likely it will lead to abuse later in life.
“Alcohol slows our ability to think and often leads to pleasure-seeking behavior because the decision-making region of the brain is not engaged,” she adds. “When teens use alcohol on a regular basis, it impacts cognitive function. There could be short term changes, such as the ability to concentrate in school, and there could also be long-term effects.”
In a recent study, about 21 percent of teens reported having five or more alcoholic drinks during one occasion.
“Many teens think that if they can handle a little alcohol, they can surely handle more. What they don’t realize is that alcohol can kill you,” Castonguay says. “When you drink too much alcohol, you can reach the point where you stop breathing. Excessive drinking can also lead to vomiting and, if you are passed out, the vomit can enter your lungs.”
For more information, visit Akron Children’s Hospital at akronchildrens.org