One of the most serious public health problems today is the use of alcohol among teens. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, youth between the ages of 12 and 20 often binge drink. Since brain development occurs up to the age of 30 (or even later), excessive alcohol use can hinder the development of significant neurodevelopmental processes. 5,000 teens die each year because of alcohol. Young people drinking can result in disastrous consequences. Here’s what schools need to know about teens and alcohol use.
Why Do Teens Drink?
The transition from childhood to adolescence is fraught with dramatic changes. Teens often wish to be like adults, thus emulating certain things they see adults do, like drinking alcohol. Why teens are prone to binge drinking and taking risks comes from their developing brain, particularly the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that gives you reasoning skills, discouraging risk-taking activities. As this critical part of their brain is not yet fully developed, teens are more likely to drink without understanding the serious consequences.
Genetics and environment play equally important roles in whether or not a teen will partake in underage drinking. Teens with alcoholic parents are susceptible to drinking problems. Simply seeing parents drink while growing up will also increase the likelihood of a teen drinking at a young age. This is especially true in homes where alcohol is easily accessible. Generally, the more normalized alcohol is in a child’s home and environment, the more normal it will seem for the child to start drinking.
Since the brain is still developing in adolescents, detecting the exact effects of alcohol on children’s brains is difficult. Nevertheless, research on animals has shown that alcohol use in this critical stage of development leads to long-term effects as an adult. The development of the reproductive system has also been shown to be affected by alcohol. Hormone balance is disrupted by alcohol use. Also, the liver is sensitive to alcohol and adolescents can obtain severe liver damage.
Signs that Teens Are Abusing Alcohol
It can be difficult to detect the subtle changes teenage students might exhibit because of their alcohol usage. Some of the known effects include lethargy, weight gain, disinterest in extracurricular activities, changes in relationships, unusual smells on body or clothes, and even seizures without history of epilepsy. Not all of these signs will be very obvious. If suspicion arises, consider talking to the student or setting up an appointment with a school counselor.
Preventing Underage Drinking
There are currently several considered approaches to reducing teen alcohol use, such as raising the prices of alcohol or raising the legal age to drink. Schools have adopted prevention programs to teach their students about the dangers of drinking. Programs of the past that used scare tactics were found to be ineffective and were quickly changed with more success. Additionally, schools can set up individual interventions with at-risk students. Screen monitoring software, such as LearnSafe, can detect discussions about alcohol and drug use on school computers. With this evidence, schools can intervene, giving students the help they need before damage is done.