teenage alcoholism, underage drinking and alcohol abuse in teens

Underage drinking in the United States continues to be a growing public health concern, raising significant health and safety risks for teenagers. Alcohol abuse among teenagers, also known as teenage alcoholism or alcohol use disorder (AUD), comes with a list of dangers and long-term consequences, including legal, academic, and physical health, disruption of early growth and sexual development, and increased risk of suicide.

The Growing Concern of Underage Drinking

Teenage alcoholism in the United States has been responsible for approximately 4,000 deaths and more than 220,000 years of potential life lost due to excessive or binge drinking. Alcoholism in teenagers has caused a significant amount of short-term and long-term consequences for individuals under the age of 21. Teens who engage in underage drinking are likelier to struggle in school and with their academic performance as well as abilities, leading to poor grades and frequent absences. They often find themselves getting into trouble more, whether it’s in school or legally, such as physical fights, sexual violence, driving under the influence, or car accidents from drunk driving.

Teenagers who start drinking alcohol before they’re 21 may experience disruptions in their neurological and sexual development and growth. Alcoholism can lead teenagers to abuse other substances, such as cannabis (marijuana), nicotine, cocaine, amphetamines, and opioids, resulting in a substance use disorder (SUD). The illicit use of substances like alcohol or opioids in teenagers can have life-long consequences, including memory problems, liver damage, or effects on academic or career opportunities.

teenager with substance use disorder

The Consequences and Risks of Teenage Alcohol Abuse

The teenage years are a critical time in someone’s life for personal, emotional, and physical development and growth. At this age, teenagers are experiencing many things for the first time and setting themselves up for their future, mentally and academically. Alcohol use in middle or high school students is often constituted by teenage rebellion, a problematic home life, parents or older siblings who allow underage drinking, or peer pressure. In 2022, 5.8 million individuals from 12 to 20 years old reported frequent alcohol use. Teenage alcohol abuse can give rise to a range of physical, mental, educational, social, and legal consequences in the future.

The Impact of Alcohol on Physical Health

Regardless of age, alcohol is not typically considered beneficial for one’s physical health. Especially for teenagers, the immediate and long-term effects of alcohol abuse can be rather alarming. While the immediate impact can result in risky behaviors, poor decision-making, and legal consequences, the long-term effects on physical health take longer to accumulate.

Teens who begin drinking before the legal age and continue heavy use throughout adulthood are at a higher risk for pancreatitis, cardiovascular diseases, liver damage, hepatitis, liver cirrhosis, hypertension, and anemia. More immediately, teenagers may experience developmental issues that affect their hormone balance and overall growth, resulting in long-term consequences and health risks.

Mental and Emotional Well-Being

The challenges experienced during the teenage years already significantly affect one’s mental and emotional well-being. When alcohol enters the mix, it can have a range of psychological effects on teenagers, including the risk of developing mental health disorders. Experiencing mental health issues as a teenager, such as depression or anxiety, can lead teens to consume alcohol more frequently as a means to cope or relieve emotional pain.

Alcohol alters brain chemistry, potentially exacerbating existing mental health conditions or contributing to the development of them. Using alcohol to curb emotions or for pain relief can evoke more health and social consequences for teenagers, such as alcohol addiction, poor academic performance and attendance, depression, and a higher risk of suicide.

Cognitive Impairments from Alcohol Use in Adolescence

The teenage years are a critical period for neurological development, and teen alcoholism can significantly inhibit that growth. Teenagers who are abusing alcohol or other illicit substances may experience cognitive impairments, affecting attention span, memory, and decision-making skills. Some of these impairments in brain function may be long-lasting or even irreversible for teenagers with alcoholism. Long-term impairments can result in the inability to fulfill specific tasks or responsibilities, whether personal or professional, significantly affecting one’s quality of life.

teenager struggling with academic performance from alcohol abuse

Career and Academic Setbacks

Teenagers who abuse alcohol may experience challenges in academic performance and attendance. They might miss school because they’re hungover or acting rebellious, struggle to remain focused during classes or tests from extreme tiredness or start problems or fights with other students or teachers. Missing school, getting poor grades, or frequently getting into trouble can lead to higher rates of lower educational attainment and dropouts. These educational setbacks in the teenage years can impact future academic progress or career opportunities later in life.

Social Challenges and Teenage Alcoholism

The social and relational aspects of teenage alcoholism can significantly strain relationships with family members, friends, and professionals. These challenges can lead to an increased risk of social isolation and loneliness throughout one’s life, which may also contribute to risky behaviors and poor decision-making. Teens may drive under the influence or have unprotected sex, which can result in serious long-term consequences such as legal arrests or pregnancy.

Legal and Financial Repercussions

Underage drinking can have severe long-term legal and financial repercussions for teenagers. The legal consequences of teenage alcoholism can result in expensive fines, community service obligations, attending alcohol counseling, or imprisonment. Driving while under the influence as a minor can result in fatal car accidents, probation, loss of driving privileges, driver’s license suspension, and teenage drunk driving convictions. The long-term consequences of underage drinking can result in a permanent DUI conviction on your driving record, leading to more expensive insurance costs.

Long-Term Alcohol Abuse and Addiction

Many teenagers are often unaware of the consequences and effects of alcohol use and abuse, leading them to consume an excessive and rather irresponsible amount of alcohol. Heavy alcohol consumption in teenagers significantly exacerbates alcohol’s effects and long-term risks. Binge drinking as a minor can lead teenagers to develop an alcohol dependence. Whether it’s drinking to fit in with other people, to feel more comfortable socializing, to cope with social anxiety, or out of peer pressure, this alcohol dependence can result in an addiction. Teenage alcoholism not only poses a range of immediate and short-term consequences and risks but can also result in lifelong repercussions regarding physical and mental health, relationships, and legal and financial aspects.

teenager getting treatment for teenager alcoholism

Alcohol Addiction Treatment for Teenage Alcoholism

As a parent or loved one of a teenager struggling with alcoholism, navigating their addiction and how to handle it properly can be challenging. Alcoholism, also known as an alcohol use disorder (AUD) in teenagers, is not unheard of and may require teen alcohol detox and treatment. Alcohol rehab for teenagers can help your teen get the necessary support, treatment, and care that they deserve for their addiction.

We understand that it is tough to watch a loved one, especially your teenager, struggle with alcoholism. Don’t hesitate to call Coastal Detox for more information on our alcohol detox programs in Stuart, FL.