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Use of alcohol amongst 8th to 12th graders has declined over a five year period since 2012 according to a National Institute of Drug Abuse survey. That’s the good news. Unfortunately, there has been no decline between 2016 and 2017 suggesting that progress has stalled.

Is there a safe level of teenage alcohol use? What is binge drinking? As a parent or guardian, you need to know about teen alcoholism.

Here are 7 facts that will help you better understand teenage alcoholism.

1. Teen Alcoholism

There are over 10 million teenage drinkers in the U.S. according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Binge drinking is widespread. Over 20% of the teenage drinkers meet the HHS definition.

Binge drinking is a pattern of drinking resulting in blood alcohol levels of 0.08 grams percent or more. To reach this blood alcohol level men typically drink 5 or more drinks and women drink 4 drinks within about two hours.

More than 6% of teenage drinkers are defined as heavy drinkers. That’s 600,000 teenagers across America. These are at greatest risk of being alcohol dependent.

2. Drinking and Driving

Motor vehicle accidents are a major cause of death and injury among teenagers. As a parent or guardian, you may feel you have some control over your teenager’s access to a motor vehicle. You may even be confident that your teenager would not drink and drive.

In 2012, 22% of young drivers who were involved in a motor accident, where there was a fatality, were driving under the influence of alcohol. Many of these teenagers’ parents will have been surprised that their teenage son or daughter had been drinking and driving.

There is another major concern. Who does your teenager take a ride from? 20% of teenagers report that they have ridden in a motor vehicle with a driver who is driving under the influence of alcohol.

3. Physical Effects of Underage Drinking

The short-term physical effects of underage drinking include relaxation, a good feeling and a moderate reduction in inhibitions. After a little while, the intoxication increases.

Coordination is lost. Judgment is impaired and you can feel sleepy. Feeling drunk and vomiting may also result.

After extended use of alcohol and heavy abuse, a teenager may experience interference with the natural development of the nervous system. Tissue and bone development can be impaired.

The effects of teenage drinking on the brain include brain damage. There can be reduced intellectual capability and memory problems. The ability to concentrate can also be reduced.

As well as liver function other organs can be affected. The reproductive system can be impacted by interference with estrogen and testosterone production.

4. Psychological Effects of Underage Drinking

Alcohol is a depressant. Teenagers can find the challenges of growing up, relationships and school pressures overwhelming. If a teenager is suffering from depression, drinking alcohol can worsen the condition.

The Monitoring the Future (MTF) study, completed by the University of Michigan looked at alcohol use and suicide. They reported that teenagers who abused alcohol were twice as likely to have contemplated committing suicide, as compared to non-drinkers. Teenagers classed as heavy alcohol abusers were four times more likely to have tried to commit suicide.

5. Teenage Alcohol Use and Sex

Alcohol has the effect of reducing the capacity to make good decisions. Judgment is impaired. In social situations, this can lead to poor decisions about relationships and sex.

Teenagers who drink are more likely to have sex or participate in sexual activity. They are more likely to have unprotected sex. Sex with a stranger is also more likely.

Sexual assaults are also associated with alcohol. Teenagers who drink alcohol are more likely to be victims or perpetrators.

6. Who is at Risk

Teenage alcoholism is not confined to one group in society. It can happen in any family, social or economic group and in any community. There are some groups that are more at risk than others.

The children of parents who abuse alcohol are more likely to become alcohol abusers themselves. The earlier they are exposed to alcohol and participate in drinking, the more likely they are to have problems with it later in life.

Teenagers with emotional problems or who suffer from depression are more likely to abuse alcohol than other teenagers. Teenagers who associate with others who abuse alcohol are more likely to do so themselves.

Low parental supervision, poor family relationships, and conflict at home can be risk factors. Some drinking behaviors can be influenced by advertising and social media.

7. Prevention Is Better Than Cure

Treatments are available for alcohol addiction. There are rehabilitation programs and these can be supported by medication. Often the key is to change the alcoholics lifestyle.

Alternative social habits have to be found. It may be necessary to change the people you associate with. The temptation to drink might be triggered by certain things and these have to be avoided.

Other health problem may need treating. Regular exercise and a good diet should be part of any rehabilitation. Good habits like these may have been long lost if they ever existed.

Talking therapies can also play a part in supporting the change. If there are fundamental emotional or psychological reasons for the alcohol abuse, these may need addressing with counseling.

In short, the cure is complex and difficult. Far better to have prevented the teenage alcohol abuse in the first place. This starts with education about underage drinking and the effects of alcohol.

Limit access to alcohol and maintain parental supervision. Address any early steps into abuse with parental or professional counseling.

Understanding Can Lead to Good Outcomes

The horrors of teen alcoholism might read like a counsel of despair. There are risks and consequences of teenage alcoholism. It’s as well to be realistic about them.

They can be a motivator too. Responsible parents and guardians provide support and education for teenagers. Vulnerable teenagers in at-risk groups may be given extra support.

With knowledge and motivation, parents, guardians, and teenagers can have the capability and confidence to resist the threat of alcohol abuse.

To learn more about alcohol abuse, click here.