According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, on an average day in 2008, 7,540 adolescents drank alcohol for the very first time. It’s hard to know exactly why these teens chose to take that first sip of alcohol. Perhaps some were just intrigued with the idea of the taste and smell of something adults seem to revere. Perhaps others were pressured into drinking by their friends. And perhaps others took a drink on a bet, daring that they could hold their liquor better than anyone else in the room.
A teen who experiments with alcohol isn’t automatically doomed to become an alcoholic. There are many factors that come into play in the development of an addiction. But there are many teens who move very quickly from merely experimenting with alcohol to using and abusing alcohol on a daily basis. It’s a slippery slope, and for many teens, that first drink seems to lead to a significant amount of problems later in life.
The Appeal of Alcohol
Alcohol may be illegal for teens to drink prior to age 21, but it still may be relatively easy for teens to get. While teens may have trouble finding anyone willing to sell them cocaine or heroin, they may be able to find alcohol:
In the home. Many teens raid the liquor cabinet, replacing the contents with colored water.
In the homes of friends and family members. Deception through replacement works here as well.
Through older friends, who might be persuaded to make purchases for underage teens.
In stores, if the teen has access to the I.D. of an older friend and is able to convince the clerk that the I.D. is valid.
For many teens, alcohol offers the perfect gateway to adulthood. After watching a football game, and taking in hundreds of television advertisements showing people having a great time while drinking beer, or watching an old movie in which sophisticated adults drink martinis by the dozen, teens may believe that drinking alcohol allows them to look and feel like adults. Some of this marketing may be completely unintentional but other ads may be specifically targeting teens, in the hopes of preparing them for a lifetime of consumerism. For example, The Partnership for a Drug-Free America reports that many alcohol ads appear on social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter. Teens may be particularly vulnerable to these ads, as they are primary users of this form of media.
Alcohol is also remarkably potent, setting to work very quickly and causing a variety of sensations that teens might find pleasurable. Feeling relaxed and at ease, while finding the world to be slightly amusing, might be incredibly appealing to teens who spend their days feeling keyed-up and overworked.
Risk Factors for Alcoholism
While teens love to believe that they are in control, and that nothing as terrible as addiction could ever happen to them, the truth is that some aspects of alcoholism are far beyond their control. In fact, they may be prewired for addiction, making the first sip of alcohol all the more dangerous. For example, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found that children who grow up with alcoholic parents are four times more likely to become alcoholics themselves, compared to children who did not grow up with alcoholic parents. This link could be biological in nature, and some studies have found that people who are alcoholics share the same sorts of genetic changes that make them more vulnerable to the benefits of alcohol, but the link might also be behavioral. Teens in alcoholic homes may face neglect or even abuse, and this could also be a fertile ground in which an addiction can spring.
Binge drinking, or drinking enough alcohol to cause a lack of consciousness, is a common way for teens to experience alcohol. They may be drinking for the sheer experience of being intoxicated. While experts often caution that people who binge drink aren’t always considered addicts, because people who binge drink don’t seem to have a physical dependence on alcohol and they can often stop drinking altogether for days or even months at a time, there may be a link between binge drinking and alcoholism. For example, the American Academy of Family Physicians suggests that people who binge drink three or more times in two weeks have at least some of the symptoms of alcoholism. If teens habitually get drunk on both Friday and Saturday night, they could easily fall into this category.
In addition, teens who binge drink may lose consciousness altogether, and their sedated brains may begin to shut down vital systems one at a time. A vibrant teen may completely forget to breathe during one of these episodes. Binge drinking may lead to addiction, but it may also lead to death.
Teens who abuse alcohol may need help in order to stop drinking. In fact, teens who are accustomed to drinking large amounts of alcohol every day may face serious health consequences if they attempt to stop drinking on their own. That’s why most experts suggest that alcoholics use certified treatment centers in order to overcome their alcohol-related issues. Here, they can receive medications to help them deal with the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, and they can get counseling help to learn how to overcome cravings and leave destructive behaviors behind.
At Teen Rehab, we keep an extensive database of reputable organizations that can help your teen recover from alcohol addiction. We work hard to match families with the right kind of help, and we’d love to reach out to you. Please contact us today to find out more about alcoholism treatments. We can help you get the help you need.
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