Think Teenage Drinking is No Big Deal? Actually, the Effects Should Be Concerning to All Parents13 months ago | Alcohol
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
If you are a parent to adolescent or teenage children, you probably fear that they may drink and drive or get in the car with a drunk driver. And that is a very valid fear, considering that about a quarter of all car crashes with teens involve an underage drinking driver.
But have you ever considered the detrimental effects alcohol may have on your child’s developing brain? Several studies suggest that the brain is not fully developed until the age of 25 (with some reports saying that the peak of your brain’s powers occur around age 22).
One study even suggests that our brains are not fully developed until we are well into our thirties or even forties.
“The prefrontal cortex is the region at the front of the brain just behind the forehead, and is an area of the brain that undergoes the longest period of development. It is an important area of the brain for high cognitive functions such as planning and decision-making, and it is also a key area for social behavior, social awareness, for empathy and understanding and interacting with other people, and various personality traits,” according to this report discussing the study.
But the relevant issue here isn’t whether the human brain is fully developed at age 25 or 35. Either way, there are many years of opportunity for the developing brain to be exposed to the consumption of alcohol and perhaps even binge drinking.
And this appears to be what is happening.
Reportedly, the average age an adolescent male will first try alcohol is 11. The average age for an adolescent female is 13.
In addition to this, “Alcohol is the most frequently used drug by teenagers in the United States. Significant statistics regarding alcohol use in teens include that about half of junior high and senior high school students drink alcohol on a monthly basis, and 14% of teens have been intoxicated at least once in the past year. Nearly 8% of teens who drink say they drink at least five or more alcoholic drinks in a row (binge drink),” according to this source.
These are statistics that should not be taken lightly. A recent study involving non-human primates, rhesus macaque monkeys (who were in adolescence or early adulthood), found evidence which suggested that heavy alcohol use among adolescents and young adults slows the rate of growth in developing brains. Furthermore, it may only take four beers per day to cause this delay in growth.
If you are thinking that there is no way that your child is drinking every day or drinking that much on a daily basis, one health study found that 1.4 million American college students drink alcohol on a daily basis, consuming on average about four drinks each.
Researchers of the recent study involving the monkeys came to the conclusion that, “Chronic alcohol self-intoxication reduced the growth rate of brain, cerebral white matter and subcortical thalamus."
(“White matter pathways play an important role in the human brain by connecting spatially separated areas of the CNS [central nervous system] and enabling rapid and efficient information exchange,” according to this source).
The findings from the study support previous research that has suggested alcohol’s effect on the developing brain can be very damaging.
“Heavy drinking has been shown to affect the neuropsychological performance (e.g., memory functions) of young people and may impair the growth and integrity of certain brain structures. Furthermore, alcohol consumption during adolescence may alter measures of brain functioning, such as blood flow in certain brain regions and electrical brain activities,” reports the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Certain cognitive functions may also be affected by heavy drinking, such as decision-making and learning. Social behavior, personality and the ability to interact with people may also be impacted.
What remains to be seen is, “...does alcohol exposure during this age range alter the lifetime learning ability of individuals?”
But we cannot afford to wait and see what happens as our children get older to determine how their brains are impacted by alcohol. As parents, we have to be proactive in educating our children about responsible use of alcohol from an early age and continue to reinforce these messages when they are older and more subject to peer pressure.
“Beliefs about alcohol are established very early in life, even before the child begins elementary school. Before age 9, children generally view alcohol negatively and see drinking as bad, with adverse effects. By about age 13, however, their expectancies shift, becoming more positive. As would be expected, adolescents who drink the most also place the greatest emphasis on the positive and arousing effects of alcohol” (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism).
As parents, we must find a way to counter the positive effects of alcohol by identifying the negative effects such as:
- Hair loss
- Vitamin and mineral depletion, especially B vitamins
- Blackouts, which may lead to risky behaviors like driving under the influence and unprotected sex. It also may make someone more of a target for a sexual assault.
- Alcohol-related brain damage, high blood pressure, heart disease
- Reduced cognitive abilities, e.g., difficulty concentrating, trouble studying or making decisions
- Poor academic performance
- Increased probability of substance abuse and chronic disease in later life
- Social problems, e.g., fights, violence, dysfunctional relationships
- Legal problems
How else can we be proactive?
Focus on nutrition.
Encourage your child to eat healthily, and set the example by eating healthily yourself, so that he or she is getting the nutrients needed for proper brain development and growth.
This report discusses how a teen’s brain is in the “remodeling phase.”
"It's a huge time of growth and development in a person's life. Therefore, the brain needs adequate sleep, hydration and good food [as in healthy food]," says a brain expert, in the report.
What you eat can greatly affect your brain and, as a result, your mood. A pro-inflammatory diet (which may include excessive amounts of processed foods), may cause depression which then, in turn, could lead to alcohol abuse.
Finally, have your child take routine nutrient tests so that you can address any nutrient imbalances that may prevent your child from being his or her healthiest self. If it is discovered that your child has too much or too little of a certain nutrient, a competent healthcare professional can work with you and your child to make the necessary dietary changes and recommend quality supplements if necessary.
(For more information on alcohol, read here).
Enjoy your healthy life!
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