Underage drinking can cause long-term harm to young brains
Consuming alcohol while one’s body is still developing can have lasting negative effects on their brain.
In one study, young male rats who had consumed alcohol while they were still developing had reduced levels of myelin in the region of the brain that is essential for reasoning and decision making compared to rats who drank sweetened water. In addition, researchers noted that the rats who consumed alcohol also had a deficit in their decision making skills.
Experts relate the study to that of growing brains in young teens.
Underage drinking can not only cause injuries, but also impairs judgment, increases risk of sexual assault, problems in school or with the law, and/or can be a gateway to trying other drugs, according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA). Peer pressure, stress and a desire for independence are one of the major causes of teens choosing to drink.
By age 15, nearly 50 percent of teens have had a least one alcoholic beverage and by age 18, 70 percent have had an alcoholic beverage, according to the NIAA. With such serious consequences and so many teens consuming alcohol, it’s important for parents to talk to their teens about this decision.
“Some parents may assume their child chooses not to engage in these activities, but the reality of the situation is that most teenagers will have consumed alcohol by the time they graduate from high school. A variety of factors play into these decisions,” says Dr. Maleeha Ashan, a psychiatrist at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill.
The American Academy of Pediatrics offers parents tips to model responsible drinking to their children:
- Having a drink should never be shown as a way to cope with problems.
- Don’t drink in unsafe conditions — for example, driving the car, mowing the lawn, and using the stove.
- Don’t encourage your teen to drink or to join you in having a drink.
- Never make jokes about getting drunk; make sure that your children understand that it is neither funny nor acceptable.
- Show your children that there are many ways to have fun without alcohol. Happy occasions and special events don’t have to include drinking.
For more information and resources on talking to kids about underage drinking, click here.
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.