Teens’ brains are not yet fully developed, so drinking alcohol in adolescence can affect the neurological pathways in their developing brains, said Dr. Nneka Holder, an adolescent medicine specialist at Akron Children’s Hospital.
“The earlier they start, the more likely it is to lead to alcohol abuse,” said Dr. Holder.
There are a number of reasons why teens may experiment with alcohol. Some may drink to appear older. Others may use it to feel more comfortable with friends or because of peer pressure or low self-esteem.
Some teens may suffer from depression and use alcohol in an attempt to feel better.
Know the dangers
“Besides its effects on developing brains, alcohol use can lead to motor vehicle accidents, violence and poor judgment, especially in sexual situations,” said Dr. Holder. “If a teen is already suffering from depression, alcohol use can lead to suicide. And alcohol poisoning from binge drinking can be fatal.”
In addition to the health risks, underage drinking is illegal. The punishment, as well as repercussions for driving under the influence, can be quite severe.
Discuss the risks
Discuss the consequences of drinking with your teen and have a plan in place to help keep him safe. Strategize with your teen about how to respond to peer pressure to drink.
Let your teen know she can call you at anytime if she wants to leave a party where alcohol is being consumed. Make sure she knows she should never get behind the wheel if she’s been drinking or be a passenger in a car with someone who’s been drinking.
Here are 6 points for parents to keep in mind regarding teens and alcohol.
- Consider your views regarding alcohol and the kind of behavior you are modeling regarding your own alcohol use.
- If you have a supply of alcohol in your home, keep it in a locked cupboard or in a place where you’d notice if any is missing.
- If alcoholism runs in your family, help your teen understand he 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, dropping grades, chronic abdominal pain, headaches, bloodshot eyes, and new friends.
- If you suspect your teen has a drinking problem, trust your instincts. If she’s reluctant to talk to you, enlist the help of your teen’s doctor. Your doctor can have a private conversation with her to find out what might be going on.