Alcohol complicates youth independence

“With the use of alcohol and other drugs over time, youth may fail to advance to more complex stages of thinking and social interaction,” advises the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. “Youth with alcohol use disorders often perform worse on memory tests and have diminished abilities to plan.” They also may have hallucinations, psychotic episodes, changes in sleep patterns and changes in ability to concentrate.

When youth abuse alcohol, they come up against some challenging problems, some of which they may never be able to overcome. They are impacted physically, emotionally and neurologically. The consequences may be economic, legal, neurological or personal; but there are consequences.

Some facts

Brain development continues to about age 25. Alcohol impairs that development making processing and sending neural impulses slower, causing memory lapses and leading to irresponsible decisions. The brain, simply, just doesn’t work correctly.

Underage drinking cost $68 billion in 2007: medical bills, income loss and costs from pain and suffering.

In 2009, 19 percent of drivers ages 16-20 were involved in fatal crashes and had blood alcohol concentration over the adult legal limit (0.08)

When youth are drinking they are more likely to have sex, become pregnant or contract sexually-transmitted diseases.

Kids who are rejected socially, who have few peer relationships or are neglected have a higher risk of social isolation or withdrawal, have inappropriate social skills and suffer low self-esteem. They choose friends similar to themselves.

Teens are under peer pressure to be accepted. If they do not feel like they belong, they may join antisocial groups. At that age, they are experimenting with things in their world, both good and bad, as they form new behavior patterns. Make-up, music, and alcohol, drugs and tobacco are some of those things they try. When they rebel they are learning to make decisions on their own, to reach for independence. Alcohol can get in the way of that growth. When they are talking and socializing with their peers, they are gathering feedback about themselves and their place in the world around them. They focus on themselves, trying to figure out where they fit in and if they are accepted. And because of their youth, they think nothing bad can happen to them so risk-taking is no big deal.

Underage drinking affects the part of the brain that controls reasoning and impulse, especially in women, which is not a sexist, but a factual statement. Under the influence of alcohol youth are more likely to engage in sexual activity when drinking, before age 13, having unprotected or unplanned sex and resulting in unexpected pregnancy. Babies can be born with FAS (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum) disorders. They are at risk of getting sexually transmitted diseases. In 2005 the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) advised that adolescents represent half of all new cases of HIV/AIDS.

The younger a person is when he or she begins drinking the more likely they will use other drugs, too. It doesn’t happen to everyone, but frequently they begin with alcohol and move on to tobacco, which leads to marijuana, and eventually to illicit hard drugs.

It’s difficult enough just being a teen trying to cope with life, but when complications come with risky decisions, it’s even more challenging to develop independence, self-control and enhancing the life skills toolbox. Mom and Dad have a lot of influence, too. Don’t stop communicating with your children.

Family Recovery Center promotes the well being of individuals, families and communities with education, prevention and treatment programs that address substance abuse and related mental health issues. For more information, contact the agency at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468; or e-mail,

Free and confidential HIV testing and counseling is available at the Columbiana County Health Department in partnership with the City of Alliance Health Department, advises Wesley J. Vins, M.S., Health Commissioner for the Columbiana County General Health District. For details call 330-424-0272 or see the website