Author: Gary Jackson

Alcohol and the Adolescent Brain National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism NIAAA

They try to do this in manners that challenge authority, particularly the close authority figures they have followed most of their lives, such as teachers and parents. Use of alcohol is one way to challenge this authority, but children and adolescents do not fully understand the risks on their health and behavior. If you’re a child or teen and are worried about your own or a friend’s drinking, it’s important to reach out to an adult you trust. If you don’t feel you can talk to a parent, reach out to a family friend, older sibling, or school counselor, for example, or call one of the helplines listed below. If their friends drink, your teen is more likely to as well, so it’s important you know where your teen goes and who they hang out with. By getting to know their friends, you can help to identify and discourage negative influences.

Teenage Alcohol Abuse

Rates (%) of current (30-day) substance use among adolescents in the United States, by substance and grade level (Johnston et al., 2017). It should be clearly understood that use of alcohol by any individual under the age of 21 is a serious problem. In most states and local jurisdictions, use of alcohol by underage individuals is illegal, though there are a few exceptions.

Prevalence of Underage Alcohol Use, People Ages 12 to 20

In other words, they’re able to experience pleasure from alcohol before they’re able to make the right choices about when and how much to drink. This can lead them to do things that are at best embarrassing, at worst life-threatening to themselves or others. Many turn to alcohol to relieve stress, cope with the pressures of school, to deal with major life changes, like a move or divorce, or to self-medicate a mental health issue such as anxiety or depression. Talk to your child about what’s going on in their life and any issues that may have prompted their alcohol use.

On top of that, there are also emotional and behavioral consequences to underage drinking. Alcohol use can affect a teen’s mood and personality, trigger depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts, and lead to an increase in risky behavior such as driving while impaired, having unprotected sex, fighting, stealing, or skipping school. Although binge drinking can have negative health consequences, not all people who binge drink are necessarily addicted to alcohol. As adolescents mature, they undergo complex developmental changes, especially in their brains.

Neural Consequences of Underage Heavy Drinking

The widespread changes in the organization and functioning of the brain—which continue into a person’s mid-20s—bring about the cognitive, emotional, and social skills necessary for adolescents to survive and thrive. The nature of these rapid changes may also increase the adolescent brain’s vulnerability to alcohol exposure. In a recent editorial in The BMJ, a trio of scientists pointed out that there are three periods in life when the brain goes through major changes and is particularly vulnerable to the effects of alcohol. When pregnant women drink alcohol, it can damage the developing brain of the fetus, leading to physical problems, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems. When people over the age of 65 drink alcohol, it can worsen declines in brain function that happen during aging. Two brief screeners have strong evidence of achieving the balance of the aforementioned goals, and can be delivered via interview or electronic administration.

  • No matter how tall or mature your teen seems, they need boundaries, discipline, and structure as much as ever.
  • In most states and local jurisdictions, use of alcohol by underage individuals is illegal, though there are a few exceptions.
  • Experts believe this may be because the pleasure center of a teen’s brain matures before their capacity to make sound decisions.
  • Findings suggest there are a number of genes, each with relatively small effects, that interact with each other and with the environment (Enoch, 2012) to make an individual more or less susceptible to having a substance use disorder (Meyers & Dick, 2010).
  • Thirteen percent of teens report using e-cigarettes in the past month, compared to 3% reporting cigarette use, with a concerning increase in the number of never-smoking youth reporting e-cigarette use (Bunnell et al., 2015).