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For young people, alcohol is the number one drug of choice. In fact, teens use alcohol more frequently and heavily than all other illicit drugs combined. Although most children under age 14 have not yet begun to drink, early adolescence is a time of high risk for beginning to experiment with alcohol.

While some parents and guardians may feel relieved that their teen is "only" drinking, it is important to remember that alcohol is a powerful, mood altering drug. Not only does alcohol affect the mind and body in often unpredictable ways, but teens lack the judgment and coping skills to handle alcohol wisely. As a result:

  • Alcohol-related traffic crashes are a major cause of death among teens. Alcohol use is also linked with youthful deaths by drowning, suicide and homicide.
  • Teens who use alcohol are more likely to become sexually active at earlier ages, to have sexual intercourse more often, and to have unprotected sex than teens who do not drink. Thirteen percent of teens say they did something sexual while using alcohol that they wouldn't have done if they were sober.
  • Young people who drink are more likely than others to be victims of violent crime, including rape, aggravated assault, and robbery.
  • Teens that drink are more likely to have problems with school work and school conduct.
  • An individual who begins drinking as a young teen is four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than someone who waits until adulthood to use alcohol.

The average age when youth first try alcohol is 11 years for boys and 13 years for girls. According to research by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, adolescents who begin drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who begin drinking at age 21.

It has been estimated that over three million teenagers are alcoholics. Several million more have a serious drinking problem that they cannot manage on their own. The three leading causes of death for 15- to 24- year-olds are automobile crashes, homicides and suicides alcohol is a leading factor in all three. Dependence on alcohol and other drugs is also associated with psychiatric problems such as depression, anxiety, oppositional defiant disorder, or antisocial personality disorder.

Alcohol is a drug, as surely as cocaine and marijuana are. It's also illegal to drink under the age of 21, and it is extremely dangerous. Even if your child is not yet drinking, he or she may be receiving pressure to drink. You need to act now. Keeping quiet about how you feel about your child's alcohol use may give him or her the impression that alcohol use is OK for kids. Adolescence is not an easy time. At this time of life, friends exert a lot of influence. Fitting in is a top priority for teens. Kids will listen to their parents however. Numerous studies show that even during the teen years, parents have an enormous influence on their children's behavior. The bottom line is that most young teens don't drink yet, and that parents' disapproval of youthful alcohol use is the key reason children choose not to drink.

Early adolescence is a time of enormous and often confusing changes for teens. Most 10- to 14-year-olds experience rapid increases in height and weight, as well as the beginnings of sexual development. As a result, many kids feel more self-conscious about their bodies than they did when they were younger and they begin to question whether they are "good enough"- tall enough, slender enough, strong enough, attractive enough- compared with others. A young teen who feels he or she doesn't measure up in some way is more likely to do things to try to please friends, including experimenting with alcohol.

Most young teens are still very "now" oriented and are just starting to understand that their actions- such as drinking- have consequences. They also tend to believe that bad things won't happen to them, which helps to explain why they often take risks.

As children approach adolescence, friends and "fitting in" become extremely important. Young teens increasingly look to friends and the media for clues on how to behave and begin to question adults' values and rules. Given these normal developments, it is perhaps not surprising that parents often experience conflict with their kids as they go through early adolescence.

Important Facts About Alcohol

  • Alcohol is a powerful drug that slows down the body and mind. It impairs coordination; slows reaction time; and impairs vision, clear thinking and judgment.
  • Beer and wine are not "safer" than hard liquor. A 12-ounce can of beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine and 1.5 ounces of hard liquor all contain the same amount of alcohol and have the same effects on the body and mind.
  • On average, it takes 2 to 3 hours for a single drink to leave the body's system. Nothing can speed up this process, including drinking coffee, taking a cold shower, or "walking it off."
  • People tend to be very bad at judging how seriously alcohol has affected them. That means many individuals who drive after drinking think they can control a car- but actually cannot.
  • Anyone can develop a serious alcohol problem, including a teenager.

Does your child have a drinking problem? Certain children are more likely than others to drink heavily and encounter alcohol-related difficulties, including health, school, legal, family, and emotional problems. Kids at highest risk for alcohol-related problems are those who:
  • Begin using alcohol or other drugs before the age of 15.
  • Have a parent who is a problem drinker or alcoholic.
  • Have close friends who use alcohol and/or other drugs.
  • Have been aggressive, antisocial, or hard to control from an early age.
  • Have experienced childhood abuse and/or other major traumas.
  • Have current behavioral and/or are failing school.
  • Have parents who do not support them, do not communicate openly with them, and do not keep track of their behavior or whereabouts.
  • Experience ongoing hostility or rejection from parents and/or harsh, inconsistent discipline.

The more of these experiences a child has had, the greater the chances that he or she will develop problems with alcohol. Having one or more risk factors does not mean that your child definitely will develop a drinking problem. It does suggest, however, that you may need to act now to help protect your youngster from later problems.

There are many myths that abound about alcohol. We will look at a couple of them here and the present the fact.

Myth: Alcohol gives you energy.

Fact: Alcohol is a depressant. It slows down the ability to think, speak, move and control all other body functions.

Myth: Everybody reacts the same to alcohol.

Fact: There are dozens of factors that affect reactions to alcohol- body weight; time of day, how you feel mentally, body chemistry, your expectations, and the list goes on and on.

Myth: It's just beer. It can't permanently damage you.

Fact: Large amounts of alcohol can do major damage to your digestive system. It will hurt your heart, liver, stomach, and several other critical organs as well as losing years from your life. Alcohol also causes severe damage to the brain. One drink of alcohol causes reduced brain responses. The damages can be clearly seen in brain scans.

Myth: The worst thing that can happen is a raging hangover.

Fact: If you drink enough alcohol, fast enough, you can get an amount in your body that can kill you in only a few hours. Alcohol poisoning is very common and life threatening if medical attention is not found.

Myth: Drugs are a bigger problem than alcohol.

Fact: Alcohol kills 6 times the number of people killed by cocaine, heroin, and every other illegal drug combined. Ten million Americans are addicted to alcohol. Alcohol is the number one drug problem of today's youth.

Myth: Alcohol makes you sexy.

Fact: The more you drink, the less you think. Alcohol may loosen you up and make someone more interested in sex, but it interferes with the body's ability to perform. And then there's pregnancy, AIDS, sexual assault, car crashes and worse to worry about. Not sexy at all.

Myth: People who drink only hurt themselves.

Fact: Every person who drinks has a mother, grandfather, sister, aunt, best friend, boyfriend or girlfriend who worries about them. Each of the 12 million problem drinkers in this country affects at least four other people.

Alcohol use builds up tolerance that leads to addiction. Alcohol is a substance that causes physical addictions with a psychological component. For example, an alcoholic who has not used alcohol for years may still crave a drink, demonstrating that the addiction is psychological, or affecting the mind.

Common Characteristics Among People Addicted to Alcohol

  • The person becomes obsessed (constantly thinks of) alcohol.
  • They will seek it out and engage in drinking even though it is causing harm (physical problems, poor work or study performance, problems with friends, family and fellow workers, etc.)
  • The person will compulsively engage in drinking alcohol, that is, drink over and over even if they do not want to and they find it difficult to stop.
  • Upon cessation of drinking, withdrawal symptoms often occur. These can include irritability, craving, restlessness or depression.
  • The person does not appear to have control as to when, how long, or how much alcohol they will drink. This is loss of control. They drink six beers when they only wanted one.
  • The person often denies problems resulting from their engagement in drinking, even though others can see the negative effects.
  • The person hides the behavior after family or close friends have mentioned their concern. For example, hiding alcohol bottles in closets and drawers.
  • Many individuals addicted to alcohol report a blackout for the time they were engaging in the behavior. For example, they don't recall what they did at the party when they were drinking.
  • Depression is common in individuals that are addicted to alcohol.
  • Individuals that are addicted to alcohol often have low self-esteem, feel anxious if they do not have control over their environment, and come from psychologically or physically abusive families.

Many people consider alcohol addiction to be a "disease" but others consider it to be a behavior learned in response to the complex interplay between heredity and environmental factors. Because of this confusion on the outlook on addiction, there is no conclusive cause or definite treatment method to which everyone agrees for alcohol addiction.

Early treatment for alcohol abuse is vital, especially for adolescents. Their brains are growing and alcohol impairs this growth and causes irreversible damage. For more information and to receive help, contact Parent Help.