Regardless of what the law allows, many teens choose to consume alcohol. One study even found that 34% of teens have tried alcohol, not an insignificant number. So, why do teens drink despite the government and parents telling them not to? Well, there are actually a multitude of reasons.
Teen rebellion is not just a trope seen in movies, it is a very real phenomenon. Teens are caught between childhood and adulthood, and are constantly trying to form their own self identity. Part of forming this identity is becoming independent and trying new things, including drinking alcohol. In fact, putting too much pressure on a teen not to drink can actually cause the opposite to happen. Teens, trying to be independent, will resent what they see as someone trying to control their behavior and identity. Thus, they may start drinking alcohol solely because they were told not to.
Teens are exceptionally susceptible to peer pressure, more so than any other age group. Teens are often insecure and still trying to figure out their personal identity. They long to fit in and to be seen as “cool” by their peers, no matter the cost. Unfortunately, this often results in teens participating in dangerous behavior and activities that they wouldn’t on their own, including drinking alcohol.
Teens deal with trauma in a wide variety of ways, just like adults. This trauma can include PTSD, past abuse, and grief. Not wanting to have to deal with these feelings, some teens will try to self-medicate, often with alcohol. They find that alcohol helps to numb the feelings associated with this trauma and can get rid of their pain. Drinking to deal with trauma is not a healthy coping mechanism at all, and help should be obtained for any teen that is drinking for this reason.
Underlying Mental Health Issues
Some teens may drink as a way to deal with underlying mental health issues. These mental health issues can include anxiety, depression, and many more. Much like with trauma, teens with underlying mental health issues consume alcohol to self medicate and numb these feelings. This is very rarely an adaptive coping strategy. Teens with underlying mental health issues should be given treatment to treat their issues and help them learn healthy coping mechanisms to get through the day, and if they are consuming alcohol, they may need a treatment option that addresses alcohol use and underlying mental health issues concurrently.
The Effects of Alcohol on Teens
Teen alcohol abuse is not at all harmless, and can actually have far reaching consequences that can follow teen drinkers for the rest of their lives. These effects can be both mental and physical.
The human brain does not finish developing until the age of 25. This means that teenage brains are especially vulnerable when it comes to the damage that alcohol can do. Alcohol can actually cause cognitive impairment in young people. This results in teens who drink heavily having trouble remembering things, difficulty learning new things, and difficulty concentrating. This cognitive impairment often causes teen drinkers to perform poorly in school, which can change the trajectory of their life forever. Alcohol use can also damage the parts of a developing brain that control mood, causing teen drinkers to have unpredictable mood swings.
Alcohol use does not just affect teen’s mental wellbeing, but also their physical well being. Alcohol is well known to damage the liver, the organ responsible for filtering all of the blood in someone’s body. When a person begins drinking early, such as in their teenage years, the more likely they are to experience liver failure later in life, which often leads to death. Teenage drinkers also experience all of the common physical symptoms associated with drinking, including hangovers, dehydration, and shakiness. These may not seem dangerous, but can lead to a teen neglecting other responsibilities, such as school and social bonds.
Perhaps most worrying, a teen who is consuming alcohol can end up having alcohol use disorder. This is an extremely serious medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences. Alcohol use disorder is commonly referred to as alcoholism, and has the potential to completely ruin a young person’s life before it has even started.
Signs of Teen Alcoholism
If you have a teen in your family, it is of the utmost importance to know what teen alcoholism looks like. The most common warning signs are:
- The common physical reactions to alcohol, such as shakiness, hangovers, and slurred speech.
- A prolonged loss of appetite.
- Trouble sleeping through the night.
- A noticeable loss of interest in friends, school, or activities that were once fun or interesting to the teen.
- A reduced ability to think or concentrate.
- Using alcohol alone or more than their peers.
- Drinking during the day.
If you notice your teen exhibiting any, or all, of the preceding symptoms, you should seek out a teen alcohol treatment program immediately. These programs will help find the exact treatment plan that will work for your teen and help them to stop drinking. Time is of the essence, as the earlier intervention happens, the easier it is to break the addiction to alcohol.