According to Stanford Children’s Health, the teenage brain is not fully developed until age 25. That being said, it is no surprise then that teens may not always make sound decisions. The limbic system, the part of the brain that directs and guides the decision-making process, comes in a close second when it comes to development. These two factors combined put teenagers at risk of making poor decisions when it comes to alcohol and binge drinking.
It is not unusual for teens and adults alike to want to do something again when it makes them feel good. Since the beginning of time, people have consumed alcohol as a means to celebrate a special occasion or maybe to complement a nice meal.
When consumed moderately, it tends to bring on pleasant feelings and emotions. Some people may refer to it as a warm, fuzzy feeling. They may feel less stressed, less inhibited and to some degree, freer. In other words, it makes them feel good and is the draw that keeps people coming back.
If the feelings that alcohol arouses are generally pleasant, why then wouldn’t teens want to experience the same sensations? They certainly can be stressed, anxious and may feel confined. Doesn’t it seem reasonable that they too should be able to imbibe their alcohol of choice? As their brains are not yet fully developed for decision-making, this seems like a very illogical, poor decision to an adult.
Not yet having decision-making capabilities, teens are not only trying alcohol during adolescence but increasingly more prone to binge drinking. For adult males, the definition of binge drinking is the consumption of five or more drinks consecutively within a two-hour period. For adult females, consuming four or more drinks in that same period is considered binge drinking.
Can you imagine how many drinks it would take for a teenager, with a developing body and brain, to become drunk within a two-hour period? Up to 100 lbs. lighter than their adult counterparts, the guess is not many at all.
The number of drinks required to get drunk of course depends heavily on weight. With this assumption, a teenager will more than likely be drunk after just one or two drinks within a short amount of time. Is this sufficient evidence to demonstrate to teens that drinking alcohol is not recommended? Probably not. Let’s look deeper.
Teens are enticed into trying alcohol for several reasons:
- They want to appear older.
- Peer pressure to fit in.
- They believe that it will make all of their problems and worries go away.
- They are curious.
While none of these is necessarily a good reason for teenagers to dip their toe into the world of adult beverages, it is understandable why they want to do so. The teenage years are riddled with pressures to fit in, the desire to be a grownup, pressure to succeed in school, to be liked by friends. The hormones racing through their bodies have them confused, eager, anxious and certainly curious about many things in the world around them. Of course, alcohol seems appealing to them; to take away even if temporarily any pain, stress or emotional distress that they may be feeling; to seem ‘cool’ and fit in.
What they do not yet understand in their underdeveloped brains is the detriment that alcohol consumption in any quantity let alone in excess has on their bodies and minds. In the short-term, when intoxicated, a teen may experience nausea, memory loss, poor decision making, dehydration, coordination problems and “the shakes”. As teens move into adulthood, binge drinking can also bring on anxiety and other mental health issues.
Aside from the short-term impact of inebriation and its side effects, binge drinking can have many permanent long-term effects including high blood pressure, stroke and cardiovascular issues, neurological damage, pancreatitis, cancer, seizures, anemia, depression, and of course, brain damage.
According to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, binge drinking has a significantly greater impact on the brain of a teenager than an adult. Since the brain is not yet fully developed, the myelin coating which surrounds nerve fibers can be severely damaged through the frequent consumption of large amounts of alcohol. In other words, binge drinking can lead to “cognitive impairment” into adulthood.
What does that mean to a young person who is concerned solely about how they feel today and at this moment?
Cognitive impairment means difficulty with cognitive functions later in life such as memory, concentration, language, perceptual-motor skills, decision making and learning. Certainly, the repercussions and effects on their life in the future are the last things a teenager is thinking about when looking to get drunk!
Did we mention the potential for liver damage? Teens tend to only look on the outside, at their physical appearance when thinking about their overall health and well-being. They look at how much fun binge drinking will be at the moment and how their cares will all be washed away with the alcohol. Again, not using their brain to think about their brain, or their body, teens do not even realize the severe harm that is being done to their body and most significantly, their liver with each binge drinking session.
The liver’s primary role is to cleanse the body of toxins and of course, alcohol is considered to be toxic. With every drink, the liver has to work harder and harder to cleanse the body of the invading chemicals. Constant pressure on this vital organ to function above and beyond its normal role causes it to operate less efficiently in the short-term and in the long run, can lead to chronic indigestion, abdominal bloating, constipation, bad breath, skin issues and in men, impotence.
Sadly, teen binge drinking also brings on the immediate added risk of alcohol poisoning. Drinking too much has the adverse reaction of effecting your breathing and heart rate, your body temperature and gag reflex. Since alcohol has a tendency to make people vomit, for those who are experiencing alcohol poisoning, their reflexes may not be functioning properly and they run the risk of choking on their vomit. It has been documented that alcohol poisoning can lead to coma and even death.
If you suspect that your teen is binge drinking and you notice any of the following symptoms, it is imperative that you seek immediate medical attention for your teen:
- Slow or irregular breathing
- Confusion and disorientation
- Low body temperature
- Blue or pale skin
Even after a person has passed out, alcohol continues to enter their bloodstream by way of the stomach and intestines. The body’s normal functions become more and more compromised as the blood alcohol content (BAC) level increases dangerously higher. Unlike food, it takes the body a very long time to rid itself of alcohol especially when consumed in large quantities. The liver has to go into overdrive to process these toxins out of the body and regulate it back to normal operation. Even once a teen appears to have “sobered” up, the lingering effects such as brain fog, headache, dehydration, irregular heartbeat and breathing may remain for several hours or even days.
While any hangover at all may be uncomfortable, to say the least, a ‘hangover’ from binge drinking is typically far worse than any “normal” hangover that you or your teen has experienced. Anyone who has drunk an alcoholic beverage of any kind before can attest to the fact that the dry mouth, headache and nausea of a normal hangover are no fun, even if it was just that one extra glass of wine. A binge hangover will more than likely leave your teen confined to bed, writhing in pain as the alcohol is very slowly processed from their body.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has released some very critical and disturbing statistics when it comes to teens and drinking alcohol over the last several years:
- 2016 – 26,000 teens between 12 and 13 years old were reported as having drunk four or more alcoholic beverages within two hours in the last month
- 2017 – 51,000 teens in this same age group had reported consuming the same amount
- 2018 – 212,000 teens between 14 and 15 years old were reported as having drunk four or more alcoholic beverages within two hours in the last month
These numbers boil down to approximately 1 in every 6 teenagers being susceptible to binge-drink; 21% of high school students have engaged in binge drinking recently, and 4,300 deaths of teenagers occur each year as a result of binge drinking. While these figures on binge drinking are astonishing in and of themselves, they also coincide with the higher numbers of teens reporting and seeking treatment for mental health issues at treatment centers like Beachside Treatment Center. Not only can binge drinking bring on mental issues later in life, but teens may be using alcohol and the feelings that it suppresses as self-medication to mask or avoid other signs and symptoms of mental health challenges.
As a parent, it is critical for you to understand and recognize the signs and symptoms of binge drinking in your teen. Aside from the personal health risks associated with binge drinking, the impairment in their already fragile decision-making processes can be disastrous under the right mix of circumstances leading to driving while under the influence, risk of sexual assault, and an increased chance of injury due to confusion and decreased motor skill function. Parents must without a doubt be cognizant of not only the risks to their own child due to their binge drinking and related behavior but how an impaired brain may in fact impact the life of another based on poor decisions made while under the influence of large amounts of alcohol.
While behavioral changes may take time to develop, the signs of binge drinking cannot be easily hidden. Some common things to look for include:
- Bloodshot eyes
- Speaking louder than usual and with slurred speech
- Short-term memory loss
- Staggering and losing balance
- Confusion and disorientation
Behavioral symptoms of alcohol use may include significant mood changes, a noticeable decrease in energy, less concern for hygiene or appearance, a lack of interest in once-loved activities or sports, a change in friend groups, relationship and/or legal troubles, and difficulty with memory, coordination, and balance. Repetitive and frequent alcohol abuse may begin to adversely impact a teen’s life and could develop into an alcohol use disorder.
If you suspect your teen of consuming large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time, be sure to get them the medical attention that they need right away to help keep them safe from bodily harm in the short-term.
However, in the bigger picture, your teen’s binge drinking behavior should be concerning to you as a parent.
With a fully developed brain, you have the capacity of making sound decisions and understanding the consequences of actions. It is your responsibility to provide them with the knowledge that you have about the harm and detriment of bingedrinking and if necessary, to get them the assistance that is needed to understand the impact of their actions in both the short and long-term.
It is their future and they cannot risk it simply for that “good feeling” that they experience during those first few moments and hours of intoxication when binge drinking. Your teen may need the help and guidance of the trained professionals at Beachside Treatment Center to help get them back on track before any further damage is done to their body or brain.
The medical professionals at Beachside Treatment Center will not only help your teen to cope with the withdrawal associated with stopping the use of alcohol but to identify and diagnose the underlying reasons for their binge drinking in the first place. Get your teen the help that they need today!