Alcohol is the most widely abused drug in the United
States. On the average, teenage drinking begins very early, often during the
preteen years. This happens partly because alcohol is easily available. Many
teens first try alcohol by getting it from their own homes.
parents believe that alcohol is not really a problem, and many feel relieved
when they find out their teen is "only drinking alcohol" and not taking other
drugs. This is dangerous thinking. Alcohol use in the teen years is a serious
concern. Even occasional alcohol use by a teen is a sign that he or she is at
increased risk for future alcohol and drug problems. Also, a teen who
drinks alcohol before the age of 14 has an increased risk for developing an
alcohol use problem.1
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Alcohol is a
sedative, and it reduces anxiety. In a person who is not dependent on alcohol,
moderate amounts cause sleepiness, good feelings (euphoria), decreased
inhibition, and impaired coordination. Alcohol decreases the quality of sleep,
especially if a person is using it often to help him or her fall asleep.
Drinking larger amounts of alcohol causes poor judgment, mood swings, slurred
speech, and an unsteady gait. Binge drinking (having 5 or more alcoholic drinks
on one occasion) or heavy use of alcohol can lead to unconsciousness, coma, and
Teens use alcohol because they believe it relaxes them,
makes them feel less stressed, and helps them feel more confident. There are
many reasons that teens should not drink. Alcohol can:
Cause serious health problems. Alcohol affects
all organs of the body but has its most serious effects on the liver. It can cause problems with brain development in teens. Alcohol
use during pregnancy can lead to
fetal alcohol syndrome.
learning how to handle stressful situations. Some teens who drink alcohol
regularly may not learn how to handle stressful situations without drinking
alcohol. Some are more prone to serious depression and
Cause dependence in teens faster than in adults. A teen
can quickly become both physically and psychologically dependent upon alcohol.
About 4.6 million teens between the ages of 14 and 17 have problems related to
Alcohol also can:
Cause problems with judgment. Teens who use drugs
and alcohol are more likely to have unprotected sex. Unsafe sex can result in
pregnancy or infection with a sexually transmitted disease, such as human
immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection.
Decrease how quickly a
person reacts to potential dangers or situations around them (such as while
driving). Car accidents because of driving while under the influences of
alcohol are the leading cause of deaths among 15- to 24-year-olds. Each year
about 8,000 teen deaths and 45,000 injuries are related to car accidents where
alcohol was involved.1
Prevent or delay
development. Alcohol abuse can prevent a teen from developing skills needed for
success in relationships and life.
Lead to use and abuse of other
drugs. Alcohol is considered a gateway drug because teens who drink alcohol are
more likely to use other drugs. Alcohol is often used to enhance the effects of
other drugs. If alcohol and cocaine are used together, it produces a
potentially deadly compound (cocaethylene).
Alcohol can be detected in a urine drug screen for up to 12
hours after drinking. Breath alcohol tests detect the level of alcohol in the
blood during the time of the test.
Signs of use
Signs of alcohol use or abuse may
Alcoholic beverages missing from the
refrigerator or cabinet.
Mood changes, including hostility and
Changes in performance at work or school, or having trouble
with the law.
Changes in appearance, sleeping patterns, and eating
Slurred speech or a lack of coordination, if recently
Anderson MM, Neinstein LS (2008). Alcohol. In LS
Neinstein, et al., eds., Adolescent Health Care: A Practical Guide, 5th ed., pp. 878-887. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and
Primary Medical Reviewer
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer
Peter Monti, PhD - Alcohol and Addiction
August 19, 2010
WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise
August 19, 2010
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor.
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