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Teen Girls' Health

Mixed Messages

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By Jennifer Ashton, M.D., Ob-Gyn with Christine Larson
WebMD Feature by “The Body Scoop for Girls”


Alcohol is a funny substance, surrounded by double standards. It’s socially and legally acceptable at some times in your life but not others. It’s against the law until age twenty-one but legal for adults. In small amounts it’s not harmful to your health, but in excess it can kill you. Your parents tell you never, ever to drink as a teen—but if you do, call them for a ride home. Talk about mixed messages. As with everything else, I believe knowledge is power. You’re less likely to abuse alcohol if you understand how it works.

Your Brain on Alcohol

When you drink an alcoholic beverage, your body starts to absorb the alcohol from your stomach into your bloodstream in as little as five to ten minutes. As soon as alcohol hits your brain, your body’s central nervous system (the machinery that runs your body) starts to slow down. Your physical actions happen more slowly and your movements become a little sloppy. Your brain’s circuitry doesn’t fire as effectively, so thoughts and speech become impaired. Your judgment gets skewed, so you might say things that you wouldn’t normally say or do things that you wouldn’t normally do.

Did You Know?

Girls Get Drunk Faster Than Boys

Forget about equality of the sexes. Turns out that girls get drunk faster than boys because females lack an alcohol-digesting enzyme that males have. This enzyme, called alcohol dehydrogenase, allows guys to process 50 percent of alcohol while it’s still in the stomach, before it enters the bloodstream. So don’t try to keep up with the boys. They’ve got an unfair biological advantage.

Signs of Alcohol Poisoning

  • Mental confusion
  • Slow or shallow breathing
  • Irregular breathing
  • Pale or blue-colored skin
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Inability to respond to shaking or commands

Your body can only metabolize a certain amount of alcohol in a certain amount of time. If you exceed that limit, your body shuts down important functions—like, say, breathing. Your respiratory rate slows down, and your blood gets less oxygen. Your stomach (wisely) wants to get rid of the toxins, so you may vomit. Unfortunately, if you’re passed out at the time, you could easily choke on the vomit. If this happens, it’s very likely you’ll die.

Every single year teens and college students across the country die of alcohol poisoning. That’s why you need to avoid drinking until you’re twenty-one, and then drink only in moderation—never more than two drinks a night. You also need to be able to recognize signs of alcohol poisoning if you see it. Watch out for your friends: Don’t risk their lives.

If you do realize that someone you know is suffering from alcohol poisoning, forget what you’ve heard about black coffee and cold showers. They don’t work.

Alcohol poisoning requires medical treatment. If a friend has signs of alcohol poisoning, alert an adult or call 911. Do not leave that person alone. Do not try to spare them embarrassment or keep them out of trouble: Save their life instead.

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