Susan D. Gifford, Ph.D., FICPP.
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Alcohol is the Drug of Choice Among Adolescents: Three-fourths of 12th graders, more than two-thirds of 10th graders, and about two in five 8th graders have consumed alcohol (more than a few sips) in their lifetime. Forty-five percent of 12th graders; 34 percent of 10th graders; and 17 percent of 8th graders reported using alcohol in the past month – more than cigarettes and marijuana combined.
The younger your teen is when they start drinking, the greater their chance of becoming addicted to alcohol at some point in their lives. More than 4 in 10 people who begin drinking before age 15 eventually become alcoholic.
It is important for parents to know the facts about alcohol and drug use and to be prepared, considering nearly a third of 12 and 13-year-olds has been offered and used an illicit drug. However, it’s promising that when teens know the facts, dangers, and risks associated with drug use they are 42% less likely to use them.
From birth through adolescence, a complex cascade of biological, psychological, and social development interacts with dynamic environmental influences, leading to behavior that may either move individuals toward or away from underage drinking.
· The Adolescent Brain May be Particularly Vulnerable to the Effects of Alcohol: Important developmental changes in the adolescent brain may make teenagers particularly vulnerable to the effects of alcohol:1
Risk-taking in General: The limbic areas of the brain, which are thought to regulate emotions and are associated with an adolescent’s lowered sensitivity to risk and propensity for novelty and sensation seeking, mature earlier than the frontal lobes, which are thought to be responsible for self regulation, judgment, reasoning, problem solving, and impulse control. This difference in maturational timing across the brain can result in impulsive decisions or actions, a disregard for consequences, and emotional reactions that can put teenagers at serious risk.2
Reactions to Alcohol: Studies conducted with animals provide important information that may shed light on human developmental processes. For example, adolescent animals are less sensitive than adults to some of the aversive effects of acute alcohol intoxication, such as sedation, hangovers, and loss of coordination. At the same time, they are more sensitive to alcohol’s effects on social facilitation. These studies suggest that adolescents who drink may enjoy the positive sensations more than adults. They may also experience fewer of the immediate negative effects, such as sleepiness and hangovers, which often serve as protective factors for older drinkers.
A Variety of Developmental Factors Influence Underage Drinking: Risk and protective factors for alcohol use shift throughout adolescence.3
Transitions: Transitions, such as moving from elementary school to middle school, and from middle school to high school, may present increased risk for alcohol use, but also opportunities for intervention.
Stress: Increased stress may lead to alcohol use
Unique Circumstances or Personality Traits: Youth with the following characteristics are more likely to consume alcohol than are other young people:
Unusually strong desire for new experiences and sensations
History of behavior problems
Presence of family conflict and/or alcohol problems
Information contained above is courtesy of The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) for more information please visit: http://www.niaaa.nih.gov