Are Teens “Too Young” to be Labeled Alcoholics?
Alcoholism is a serious condition that can affect people from all walks of life regardless of their circumstances. There are many prevailing myths and stereotypes about what an alcoholic looks like. While people imagine that alcoholism only occurs later on in adulthood, the reality is that it can take place at any age and at any point in a person’s life. Alcoholism at a young age is pretty serious because it may lead to severe effects on both the physical and mental health of young alcoholics along with a negative impact on their future.
The myth that a person can be “too young” to be an alcoholic can be problematic for a number of reasons. It is unfortunate that people who believe this myth may fail to get treatment for themselves or someone they love who is in their teens or early 20s. Most doctors know from experience in diagnosing the disorder that age makes no difference when it comes to unhealthy consumption of alcohol.
Although people may imagine that alcoholism is a serious problem for people who are in their 30s and 40s, the truth is that the problem actually is more common than ever among young people. Studies show that the median age for initial drug use is actually 14 years old and the younger a person is when they start using, the more likely they are to develop an addiction. In fact, 90 percent of people who develop an addiction start using before the age of 18.
The current trend is that kids are becoming addicted at younger and younger ages and the effects of alcohol use can be devastating on a teen who is still developing and growing. Underage drinking is fairly common because teens tend to have risk taking behavior as their brains are still developing and they can be more impulsive than adults. Teens may have less regard for the consequences of their behavior and may drink excessively without considering the negative effects of alcohol.
Health Risks of Underage Drinking
Teenagers who have alcohol addictions will experience a dramatic impact on their physical and mental health because of their young age. Because their brains are still developing they can cause long-term damage to their thinking and memory skills which can be difficult to recover. They may have lasting impairment resulting from heavy alcohol consumption that continues later in adulthood.
As anyone who drinks heavily knows, alcohol can have very damaging on the liver. In fact, many teens and young adults can show liver damage equal to that of a middle aged alcoholic. Doctors can identify liver damage through elevated liver enzymes and these can be frequently found in adolescent drinkers especially if they are overweight or obese.
Many teens are still going through puberty and their hormone levels are changing throughout their development with increases of testosterone and estrogen . Drinking during this critical period of hormonal change can upset the balance of hormones in a teen’s body. Alcohol can even adversely affect the maturation of the reproductive system.
Signs of Teen Alcoholism
Teens who engage in heavy drinking should be provided with treatment early to prevent any of the negative health effects that they might experience with continued use. It is important to recognize signs of teen drinking or alcoholism and avoid believing the prevailing myth that they are too young to need treatment.
These are some of the signs of teen alcoholism:
- Smell of alcohol on breath or clothes on a regular basis
- Slurred speech or problems with coordination
- Changes in sleep pattern
- Deterioration in physical appearance
- Changes in academic performance
- Loss of interest in hobbies or activities
- Getting in trouble at school or with the law
- Neglecting responsibilities at home or at school
Teens who have a problem with alcoholism will exhibit a marked shift in their usual behavior and act much more carelessly or recklessly than normal. They can also appear more depressed or anxious and hide things from their parents or friends. They may be more secretive and hide things from others or lie about where they’ve been and what they’ve been doing.
Treating Teens with Addictions
It is crucial for teens to get the help that they need to recover from an alcohol problem. They are never too young to go to detox or a rehab center so that they can become healthy again. More teens than ever are getting the help they need early and even attending 12 step meetings so that they can learn to be sober.
While it is normal for teens to be rebellious or take risks, an addiction is a serious issue that requires professional attention. The earlier they receive treatment, the less likely they are to suffer from long term physical or mental health issues. Teens in treatment can learn healthier coping methods that will help them for the rest of their lives.
If you think your child might be suffering from an alcohol addiction, look for a local treatment center that accepts teens into their inpatient program.