Although teen alcohol use is illegal, the Center for Disease Control reports that 11 per cent of all alcohol consumed in the United States is by youths between the ages of 12 and 20. The consequences of this massive alcohol use can be harmful, even disastrous to a teen's physical health. Many youths who binge drink die of alcohol poisoning -- others are killed in alcohol-related car crashes. Teenage alcohol consumption can also lead to addiction and liver damage, and it may stunt mental development and sexual maturation.
Alcohol consumption may adversely impact the development of a teen's brain, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, or NIAAA. While the exact effects of alcohol on the human teen brain are difficult to study, research on animals has shown that the consumption of alcohol during this crucial developmental may have long-term effects on teens' motor skills, coordination, learning, thinking, and memory. One recent study by researchers at the University of Washington found that rats who consumed alcohol in adolescence had impaired decision-making skills as adults.
Drinking alcohol can harm internal organs. One organ that is especially vulnerable is the liver, which helps remove toxins from the body. According to the NIAAA, research has shown that teens who drink heavily have elevated liver enzymes -- in obese teens, even moderate drinking can have this effect. This rise in liver enzymes is a sign of alcoholic liver disease, or ALD, a condition that impairs the liver's ability to perform its crucial functions. With heavy alcohol abuse, ALD can progress from "fatty liver" to alcoholic hepatitis to cirrhosis, a potentially fatal illness.
Growth and Development
The NIAAA cautions that the consumption of alcohol during puberty and adolescence may upset the normal increase of the sex hormones testosterone and oestrogen. This dampening of sex hormones may in turn impede the body's ability to produce other hormones and growth factors that contribute to the development of organs, bones and muscles. Thus, alcohol consumption may prevent a teen's body -- including his reproductive system -- from growing and developing normally.
In addition to its direct effects on a teen's body, alcohol can have indirect health effects --- including death --- by causing risky behaviour. While under the effects of alcohol, a teen's coordination and equilibrium are impaired, making driving particularly dangerous. As stated by the NIAAA, "One of the leading causes of teen deaths is motor vehicle crashes involving alcohol." In addition, a teen under the influence of alcohol is more likely to engage in risky behaviour such as having unprotected sex, or to be a victim of sexual assault.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Fact Sheet: Underage Drinking
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Alcohol Alert: Underage Drinking
- Robert Preidt: Rat Study Sheds Light on How Alcohol Affects Young Brain
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Make a Difference: Talk to Your Child About Alcohol
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Alcohol Alert: Alcoholic Liver Disease