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The Negative Effects of Underage Drinking on Mental Health



Before I explore the dangers of underage drinking, I want to share my own experiences. Like many teenagers, I was desperate to fit in and feel accepted by my peers. I was drawn to the allure of camaraderie and the illusion of maturity that drinking seemed to offer. I wanted my friends' validation and hoped that joining in their indulgences would secure my place within the group. Yet deep down, I knew this was a misguided attempt to conform and transform myself into someone I wasn't.

Unfortunately, the opposite occurred. Drinking with my peers only led to more negative experiences. I was labeled a "burnout," and the pressure to fit in at school caused me to lose sight of my academic goals. I felt like I didn't belong, and I foolishly believed that mimicking my peers' behavior would earn me their acceptance. In reality, it didn't matter how much I tried to fit in. Seeking approval from other teenagers was never going to fix my insecurities. However, as I matured, I realized that there are many other ways to build self-confidence as a teenager and pave the way for a fulfilling future.

Underage drinking is a critical social issue that can have both short- and long-term adverse effects on physical, mental, social, and academic factors. It is a severe problem that demands our immediate attention and intervention.

The Prevalence of Underage Drinking

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, 70% of teenagers have tried alcohol before turning 18 years old. This alarming statistic becomes even more concerning when considering that one in three high school students has experimented with alcohol. Underage drinking is not only hazardous for health and safety reasons but can also lead to legal issues and dangerous behavior.

The Impact on Mental Health

Drinking before the legal age can have severe impacts on a teenager's mental health. Alcohol consumption can interfere with brain development and potentially cause long-term cognitive impairments. It can also increase the risk of developing mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety. Furthermore, underage drinking can lead to risky behaviors such as unprotected sex, drug use, and dangerous driving, which can have further detrimental effects on mental health.

The Role of Parents and Educators

Parents are crucial in reducing underage drinking. They are the first line of defense in helping teens make wise choices. By setting clear expectations, maintaining open communication, and modeling responsible behavior, parents can significantly influence their teens' decisions about alcohol. Here are some strategies on how parents can talk to their children about underage drinking:

  1. Start Early: Begin the Conversation about alcohol use at an early age and continue it as your child grows.

  2. Set a Good Example: Parents are role models in many areas, including drinking. By drinking responsibly (or not at all), being active, and eating healthily, you can set a good example.

  3. Keep the Conversation Going: Make conversations about alcohol use part of your parenting. Reinforce those messages and keep the talks going.

  4. Share Age-Appropriate Information: Share information that makes sense for your child's age. As your kids become teens, it makes sense to talk about how misusing alcohol can have effects they care about now.

  5. Discuss the Risks: Talk about the short-term and long-term effects of alcohol and why it's dangerous for growing bodies and minds.

  6. Set Boundaries: Establish clear rules about alcohol use.

  7. Encourage Open Communication: Ask your child to be honest with you if they do try alcohol. If you think your child has been drinking and hasn't told you, don't ignore it.


There is an amazing organization called Partnership to End Addiction. There is a wealth of information on their site for parents, educators, community members, and healthcare professionals. I have attached a few guides that are centered around underage drinking that I found on this site. I recommend taking a few moments to look around at the valuable information the site has to offer and make sure to bookmark it for future reference.

Alcohol-Guide_Families_030821
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Download PDF • 4.08MB

Alcohol-Guides_School_030821
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Download PDF • 2.92MB

Alcohol-Guide_HCP_030821
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Download PDF • 3.64MB

Underage drinking is a severe problem that can lead to numerous negative consequences, including:

  1. Academic Problems: Absences, lower grades, and decreased concentration can result from underage drinking.

  2. Health Risk Factors: Heavy drinking can lead to health problems, disrupt sleeping patterns, delay puberty, and affect brain development.

  3. Increased Risk for Diseases: Liver and heart disease, high blood pressure, and certain types of cancer are all health risks associated with underage drinking.

  4. Risk of Developing Alcoholism: The effects of underage drinking can lead to the development of alcoholism in the future.

  5. Social Problems: Participation in youth activities can be impacted by underage drinking, and it can lead to social issues such as fighting.

  6. Legal Problems: Underage drinking can result in legal troubles such as arrests, particularly for driving under the influence or physically harming someone while intoxicated.

  7. Unsafe Behaviors: Engaging in potentially harmful behaviors like drinking and driving, dangerous sexual activity, and other substance use can lead to injuries, sexual assaults, and even death.

These are just a few of the many potential adverse effects of underage drinking. It's crucial to educate young people about these risks to help them make informed decisions regarding alcohol use. Educators and those who sell alcohol also have a responsibility to reduce the high rate of underage drinking. Schools can implement comprehensive alcohol education programs, while retailers can ensure they do not sell alcohol to minors.



How Can I Tell If My Child Has a Problem with Alcohol?

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) can affect people of all ages, including teenagers. Recognizing AUD in teenagers isn't always easy, but it can be the first step in offering them the support they need. Here are some signs that your child might have a problem with alcohol:

Physical Signs:

  • Frequent tiredness and lethargy: If your child is often tired without an apparent reason, it could be a sign of alcohol use.

  • Unexplained illnesses: Regular alcohol use can weaken the immune system, leading to frequent illnesses.

  • Unexplained tremors, shakes, nausea, or vomiting: These could be signs of alcohol withdrawal.

  • Bloodshot eyes, slow or slurred speech, and deteriorating physical hygiene and grooming.


Behavioral Signs:

  • Loss of interest in usual hobbies and activities: If your child suddenly loses interest in activities they once enjoyed, it could be a sign of a problem.

  • Change in sleeping patterns and social circles: Changes in your child's friends or sleep schedule can be indicative of alcohol use.

  • Decrease in school performance and frequent, unexplained absences from school: A sudden drop in grades or frequent absences could be a sign of alcohol use.

  • Neglecting personal hygiene, chores, and other responsibilities: If your child starts neglecting their duties, it could be a sign of alcohol use.

  • Drinking alone or in isolation and making excuses for drinking: If your child is often found drinking alone or makes excuses to drink, it could be a sign of a problem.


Risk Factors:

Certain factors may increase the risk of alcohol misuse or AUD, including:

  • Being male

  • Drinking at a young age

  • Genetics

  • Having relatives with the condition

  • Mental health conditions, including mood disorders, personality disorders, or schizophrenia

  • A history of trauma

  • Loneliness

  • Stress


If you notice these signs in your child, it's essential to approach the situation with understanding and support. Remember, the goal is to help your child, not to punish them. If you need help with proceeding, consider contacting a healthcare professional for guidance.

Strategies for Discussing Drinking Habits with Your Child

Talking to your child about their drinking habits may be difficult, but it's an essential conversation. Consider these strategies to assist you in making it smoother:

  1. Start the Conversation early and have it often: It's important to start these conversations when your child is young and keep them ongoing. The frequency and age to start these talks depend on the family, but it's generally recommended to start making it a casual topic when they're around nine or ten.

  2. Create a safe space for open dialogue: Encourage your child to talk to you about drinking. Remain calm when listening and try not to judge or criticize. Make it comfortable for your child to speak honestly.

  3. Explain your concerns: Talk early and often, in developmentally appropriate ways, with children and teens about your problems—and theirs—regarding alcohol. Explain why you disapprove of drug and alcohol use and that you care about your child's health and well-being.

  4. Provide factual information about alcohol: Give accurate information about drugs and alcohol. Show that you will monitor them and intervene if necessary.

  5. Establish policies and expectations: Adolescents who know their parents' opinions about youth drinking are more likely to fall in line with their expectations. Establish policies early on, and be consistent in setting expectations and enforcing rules.

Remember, every child is different, and what works for one might not work for another. It's essential to approach the situation with understanding and support and consider contacting a healthcare professional if you need further guidance.

  • Lead by example: Children tend to mirror the behavior they see around them, including their parents. It's vital to model responsible drinking habits or avoid drinking altogether if you don't want your child to drink. By doing so, this can help reduce the likelihood of them developing unhealthy drinking habits later in life.

  • Acknowledge peer pressure: Children and teenagers often face peer pressure to drink. Discuss situations where peer pressure could arise and provide guidance on how to respond. Encourage your child to seek out healthy activities and friendships that don't involve drinking.

  • Stay involved in your child's life: Stay engaged in your child's activities and social life. Involvement can help you stay aware of any changes in your behavior or habits that could indicate a problem with drinking. Offer guidance and support when needed.

Using these strategies, you can create a supportive and open environment for discussing drinking habits with your child. Remember, it's never too early to start these conversations, and it's essential to approach the situation with empathy and understanding. You may also find this article helpful: Connecting & talking with your child


Here are some Misconceptions About Underage Drinking You Should Be Aware Of:

  1. Underage drinking is not a typical rite of passage. Most young people do not drink alcohol.

  2. According to a 2019 national survey, only 9.4% of 12-17 year-olds reported drinking alcohol in the past month.

  3. Underage drinking is not a minor issue. The earlier a child consumes alcohol, the higher the risk of addiction or other substance abuse disorders in the future.

  4. Young people do not drink the most. Underage drinking rates are declining.

  5. Recent data shows that teenage drinking is at a new low. In 2013, 72% of 12-17 year olds abstained from alcohol, whereas in 2021, that number has risen to 82%.

  6. Don't underestimate the dangers of underage drinking. Alcohol can have an array of negative consequences on youth's health and safety.

  7. Recent studies have revealed that any drinking during adolescence before the brain is fully developed poses a significant risk.

Always remember to talk openly and frequently to your child about alcohol and keep a close eye on their behavior.

Conclusion

Combating the underage drinking epidemic begins with educating our youth. It requires the combined efforts of vigilant parents, informed teenagers, educators, and those who sell alcohol. By working together, we can help our teens make safe choices and protect their mental health.

There is a great website with an Underage Drinking Guide that I recommend referencing for any questions you may have about underage drinking.


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Special Thanks!


I am grateful to Brown & Crouppen Law Firm for reaching out to me and expressing their interest in my article on underage drinking. However, after completing the article, I realized that more needs to be discussed on this topic. As such, I am considering creating an entire series on the issue of underage drinking and teen substance use.

Reference:

  • Talking to Your Kids About Alcohol (for Parents) - Rady Children's Hospital - San Diego. https://kidshealth.org/RadyChildrens/en/parents/alcohol.html?WT.ac=p-ra

  • Communities Talk. https://www.stopalcoholabuse.gov/communitiestalk/tips-resources/prevent-underage-drinking-women-young-girls.aspx

  • Counseling Services for Underage Drinking Ferndale Washington | Concrete Resource Coalition. http://www.concreteresourcecoalition.com/underage-drinking-treatment-ferndale-wa/

  • What is Gray Area Drinking? - South Carolina Addiction Treatment. https://scaddictiontreatment.com/addiction-blog/what-is-gray-area-drinking-and-is-it-dangerous/

  • Communities Talk. https://www.stopalcoholabuse.gov/communitiestalk/tips-resources/prevent-underage-drinking-women-young-girls.aspx

  • In Honor of Alcohol Awareness Month: Talking to Youth About Substance Abuse - Poe Center for Health Education NC. https://www.poehealth.org/in-honor-of-alcohol-awareness-month-talking-to-youth-about-substance-abuse/

  • Talking to your teen about drinking: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000505.htm


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