(Blogmeister’s note: This information was first published in the Cincinnati Enquirer on April 11)
Alcohol use among adolescents affects all socioeconomic groups, and represents a tremendous financial and social cost. It can affect every organ system in the body.
In adolescents, early onset of drinking and alcohol misuse over several years is associated with changes in the brain such as the hippocampus, the area associated with long-term memory and spatial awareness. It is a known fact that the younger a person is when they start drinking, the greater the chance they have of becoming addicted to alcohol at some point in their lives. Also, more than four in 10 people who begin drinking before age 15 eventually become alcoholics.
The brain undergoes significant changes during adolescence. Chronic exposure to alcohol during early adolescence has been shown to alter puberty-associated hormone levels and the timing an adolescent undergoes puberty. Animal studies suggest alcohol can affect changes in hormone levels, sexuality and behavior differently during adolescence.
Some people drink alcohol in ways that are detrimental to themselves or others. In cases of mild intoxication, the signs of inebriation are quite variable: A person might lose self-control or become ill-tempered; and as they become more intoxicated, their inhibitions become more impaired. A person can become irritable, aggressive, violent, confused or tired. With severe intoxication, there is loss of airway protective reflexes, central nervous system depression, a person can go into coma, and there is an increased risk of death because a person can stop breathing.
It is important for all teenagers to know that there is no safe kind of alcohol. One 12-ounce bottle of beer or a 5-ounce glass of wine (about a half-cup) has as much alcohol as a 1.5-ounce shot of liquor. Alcohol can cause problems no matter how it is consumed. The bottom line is if an adolescent has a problem with alcohol, they should be urged toget help. Treatment works. The earlier a person receives treatment, the better. The longer problems with alcohol are ignored, the higher the chances of permanent physical and psychological effects.