Although drinking in moderation can be safe for adults, drinking by anyone under 21 can be a serious issue and should not be ignored, dismissed or minimized. There are, of course, the immediate risks and harms a young adult may experience from drinking alcohol: they are more likely to have driving accidents, experience death from alcohol poisoning (excessive drinking), have violent behavior, be the victim of violent crime, to have unprotected sex, and to have depression and anxiety.
Equally concerning, a number of reports and studies indicate that drinking by young adults (anyone under 25 years of age) can have serious long-term consequences as well. It is now understood that the human brain is still developing and growing until the mid-20s. Heavy drinking before the brain has completed its development can cause numerous long-lasting problems. A recent study by neuroscientist Susan Tapert of the University of California, San Diego compared the brain scans of teens who drink heavily with the scans of teens who don't. Tapert's team found damaged nerve tissue in the brains of the teens who drank. The researchers believe this damage negatively affects attention span in boys, and girls' ability to comprehend and interpret visual information.
According to a national survey of 43,093 adults, published in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 47% of those who begin drinking alcohol before the age of 14 become alcohol dependent at some time in their lives, compared with 9% of those who do not drink until at least age 21.
In a study comparing the brains of youth ages 14 to 21 who did abuse alcohol with those who did not abuse alcohol, researchers found that the hippocampi of drinkers were about 10% smaller than in those who did not drink. The hippocampus is the area of the brain critical for regulating emotions, for storing and recovering memory, in particular long-term memory and for spatial navigation. Damage or stunting of the hippocampus can lead to loss of memory and difficulty in establishing new memories. For example with Alzheimer's disease the hippocampus is one of the first regions of the brain to be affected, leading to the confusion and loss of memory.
Drinking by young adults is a serious issue and can have potentially life-long consequences. So, how can you tell if your teen is drinking or abusing alcohol? Here are some of the warning signs to look for:
Physical Warning Signs Of Alcohol Use And Abuse
- Bloodshot eyes
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Shaking, tremors or seizures without a history of epilepsy
- Poor personal grooming, hygiene and physical appearance
- Slurred speech
- Poor coordination
- Injuries or bruises that your teen can’t remember how they happened
- Smell of alcohol on breath, body, or clothing
- Sudden use of breath mints or gum
- Incoherent or slurred speech
- Finding alcohol in your teen’s room or with belongings
- Alcohol missing from house, discovering watered-down bottles of alcohol
Behavior Warning Signs Of Alcohol Use And Abuse
- Missing school or classes
- Drop in grades
- Getting in trouble at school, or with the law
- Increase in arguments, fights, accidents
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, hobbies or sports
- Missing money or valuables or frequently asking for money
- Increased isolation, silence, being withdrawn
- Increase in secretive or suspicious behaviors
- Refusing to discuss new friends, activities
- Locking doors
- Avoiding eye contact
- Sudden change in friends, favorite hangouts
- Using eye drops to hide bloodshot eyes
- Unexplained change in personality and/or attitude
- Sudden mood changes, irritability, outbursts
Many of the items listed are common in all teenagers. Nearly all teens will be irritable and have abrupt mood changes due to the hormonal changes they are experiencing. However, if several of these warning signs occur, be alert for more. If you do find your teen is drinking or abusing alcohol, talk to them about it. Explain to them the new findings on what alcohol does to teenage brains and its lasting impact. See our article on “How to Talk to Your Teen About Alcohol” for more suggestions.
Finally, if you discover your teen is regularly drinking and the drinking is having consequences, look into treatment options for help. New Hope Recovery Center can offer treatment suggestions for your teen/young adult. The early you intervene on teen drinking the better. Call 888-707-4673 to set up a confidential assessment.
Written by: New Hope Recovery Center
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