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Alcohol and Adolescents: The Need to Teach our Children Well
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently published a policy statement on "Alcohol Use by Youth and Adolescents." In addition to being a call to action to health care providers, the statement offered a compelling look at what research tells us about teenage drinking.
A survey done in 2009 asked 46,000 students whether they had used alcohol in the previous month. Over 5% of the eighth graders, 15.5% of tenth graders and 27.4 % of twelfth graders reported that they had been drunk at least once in the previous thirty days. Over 90% of twelfth graders and 60% of eighth graders reported that alcohol was easy to obtain.(1)
Bingeing, Driving and Social, Sexual and Other Risks
Teenagers tend to binge drink and these episodes of heavy drinking carry high risk of alcohol poisoning or overdose. The definition of binge drinking, consuming five or more drinks within a few hours, is actually quite high for teens since they become intoxicated on less alcohol. When drinks are consumed in rapid succession, the tendency is for the teen to be suddenly very intoxicated, in a manner that makes it difficult for them to think clearly, make responsible decisions, and keep themselves and their friends safe.
Motor-vehicle accidents are the top cause of death for teens and young adults in the United States(2). A survey done in 2007 showed that 29% of surveyed students had, in the month preceding the study, ridden at least once in a vehicle whose driver had been drinking. Ten percent of the students had themselves driven while intoxicated.(3) Numerous studies have shown that drinking and driving are a deadly combination for teens.
Teen drinking is also associated with increased risk of suicide and excessive use of alcohol is often found in teens with anxiety and depressive disorders, ADHD, conduct and behavior disorders, eating disorders, and psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia.(4)(5) Teenagers who are abusing alcohol should be evaluated for signs of mental health disorders and for the presence of increased stressors in their lives. Using alcohol to "feel better" is both a poor and dangerous choice. The odds of engaging in risky sexual encounters are also far greater for teens who have been drinking heavily.
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