Most parents will acknowledge that children just grow up too fast. Milestones like the first words come out unexpectedly. Before long, the wobbly legs are flying across a baseball field. One milestone parents might not expect, and definitely not one anticipated, is the day their child takes their first drink of alcohol. Unfortunately, this alcohol milestone is often occurring even before a child’s teen years.
While the legal drinking age is 21 years old, 41 percent of youth have had their first alcoholic drink by age 14. Some parents have completely missed this milestone, completely unaware that it has happened. Other parents have witnessed the milestone, believing that their child will be more responsible if they drink in their own home. But statistics show that the earlier a child takes their first drink (no matter where they have that drink), the more likely it is that they will have alcohol dependence as an adult.
Risks Of Drinking As A Teen
Research studies reveal that alcohol disrupts the brain development of teenagers. Damage in the prefrontal and hippocampus areas can impair teens both mentally and physically. Just at the busy time when teens are learning algebraic equations, planning for college, and making more independent personal decisions alcohol could be preventing them from performing at their best. A recent study states that teens who had binge drinking episodes at age 16 were 40 percent more likely to engage in using illegal drugs and of also having mental health problems.
Alcohol also affects the growth of young bodies. It can damage the liver and disrupt the hormones that affect the development of muscles, bones, and other organs. Alcohol can also disrupt the normal process of puberty and maturation at this age.
With teen drinking come many risks. Alcohol’s impairment on the brain may cause teens to make poor and risky choices about sex, violence, and drinking and driving. Nearly 2,000 youth under age 21 die in alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents each year.
Other teens may be susceptible to the depressant qualities of alcohol and only worsen a mental health condition of depression. An article in the Pediatrics journal stated that teens who drank at an early age were three times as likely as other youth to attempt suicide. Government statistics say that nearly 300 of the suicides each year are related to the use of alcohol.
Drink Now, Problems Now…And Later
When teens drink, they often have at least four or five drinks in one drinking session. This binge drinking causes problems in later adulthood. Binge-drinking teens are 70 percent more likely to be heavy drinkers as adults than those who didn’t binge-drink as a teen. These habits lead to alcohol abuse and dependence as well as multiple health problems.
Parents and friends can help keep alcohol out of youth’s hands. Some milestones are eagerly anticipated. A person’s first alcoholic drink is best anticipated at the legal drinking age.
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