Can Teens Safely Drink?
Adolescence is a time in a teen’s life to experiment, learn about one’s likes and dislikes, individuate and explore a newfound need for autonomy. The teenage brain is not yet fully developed. A teenager relies heavily on the amygdala (the area of the brain associated with impulses, emotions, aggression, and instinctive behavior) when reacting to certain stimuli whereas an adult relies on the prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain that is involved in planning, self-control, and decision making) when reacting to the same stimuli. Hence, teenagers instinctively react emotionally to external stimuli, as this region of the brain is particularly sensitive during the adolescent years. Introducing chemicals that alter one’s brain functioning, especially during the formative adolescent years as the brain has yet to fully mature, can cause detrimental effects.
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. It works by slowing down vital functions in one’s body. After a teen consumes alcohol, it is absorbed from the small intestine and stomach into the bloodstream and is then metabolized in the liver. The liver, however, is only able to metabolize a small amount of alcohol at a time, which leaves excess alcohol to circulate throughout one’s body via the bloodstream. Further, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIH) asserts, “Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways, and can affect the way the brain looks and works.” The feelings elicited by a teen when he or she ingests alcohol occur because of the way the substance interacts with one’s neurotransmitters.
There is no universal answer to whether teens can drink safely, as each teenager is different, and the answer is highly variable. However, there are many potential risks associated with teenage drinking. It is highly common for teenagers to experiment with alcohol use during adolescence, for some to self-medicate and for others merely out of curiosity. Regardless, teenagers that habitually abuse alcohol place themselves at increased risk for developing severe short- and long-term physiological complications. Excessive alcohol consumption in teens can lead to:
- Delayed puberty
- Liver damage
- Negative effects on the reproductive system
- Elevated levels of liver enzymes
- Reduced growth potential and/ or stunted limbs
- Lowered bone mineral density
One of the most dangerous consequences of teens testing their limits with alcohol is the possibility of alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning occurs due to the inability to adequately metabolize alcohol in sufficient time. Because each young person is different, there is no specific amount of alcohol that necessarily leads to alcohol poisoning. If left untreated, alcohol poisoning can lead to deadly consequences. It is essential to obtain immediate assistance if you are concerned that your teen may be suffering from alcohol poisoning.
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