What are the most serious consequences of underage drinking?
Underage drinking is defined differently depending on if you look at it from a legal or biological perspective. The legal age for drinking is 21-years-old in the US. Prior to 1986, the drinking age varied from state to state, but with passing of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, all states were required to set their minimum drinking age at 21. Hence, underage drinking is legally defined as when a person who is younger than 21-years-old drinks alcohol.
Biologically, underage drinking might be defined as drinking alcohol under the age of 25. Scientific study of the human brain has determined that the brain is not fully developed until the age of 25. The long-term effects and consequences of drinking alcohol
are far more serious when excessive alcohol is consumed while the brain is still developing.
Additionally, a person who is under the age of 25 does not have a fully developed sense of risk and mortality that might help prevent them from taking unnecessary risks, such as driving drunk. So, even with a legal minimum drinking age of 21-years-old, there is a significantly increased risk of long-term effects of underage drinking on the central nervous system and risk of alcohol-related accidents when it comes to legal heavy drinking between the ages of 21 and 25.
Is underage drinking a risk factor for developing alcoholism later in life?
For children under the age of 15-years-old, there is a higher risk of becoming an alcoholic. You might wonder how it is possible that young children are already drinking at such a young age. While strict drinking age laws are mostly effective for limiting underage access to alcohol, there are always ways for children to get alcoholic beverages.
For example, if you have alcohol in your home, your children could be already using it. Kids talk to their friends and dare each other with various challenges. Some of these dangerous games may include drinking alcohol from around the house. If you have a minibar, or just a few bottles of wine or hard liquor in a kitchen cabinet, you must take precautions to protect your children from the temptation of trying alcohol.
The best way to address the issue is with education. Rather than simply telling your kids not to drink, explain to them in detail what consequences may occur if they start drinking as children. If children are informed, with accurate information, about the dangers of underage drinking, they will be less likely to take the risk of experimenting with alcohol.
The greatest risk of developing alcohol use disorder later on occurs when children drink under the age of 15. For children who do not start drinking until later, their risk is lower. Still, teenagers and young adults should wait to start drinking alcohol as long as possible.
In fact, there is no reason that they must start drinking at any age. There are no health benefits to drinking any amount of alcohol.
What is myelin and how does it relate to underage drinking?
Do you know what insulation is? There are various types of insulation that are used throughout a typical house. In our house, for example, some external water pipes have a thick insulating material surrounding them. An insulated hot water pipe will deliver hot water more effectively to the shower or kitchen sink compared to a pipe with no insulation.
Myelin is a special substance that is made of fatty material and proteins. It forms a sheath around the nerve cells that run through the central nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord. Myelin helps signals to travel throughout the brain more quickly and reliably, just like the insulation around a hot water pipe.
Interestingly, myelin in the human central nervous system takes time to develop. If you are in your early 20s or younger, your myelin is likely not fully developed. This means that your brain is not functioning at its best yet. Your ability to make good decisions is not optimal. And, you are at greater risk of drugs, including alcohol, causing lasting damage to the functioning of your brain.
It is important to give the brain time to complete the maturation process, allowing the myelin sheaths to form around neurons of the frontal lobes of the brain. This ensures that your judgement is sound and you are functioning at your best. Your brain will also be more resilient and protected.
Give your brain a chance to fully develop before considering exposing it to drugs and alcohol.
If you are thinking about starting drinking or drug use early in life, even in college, consider the serious, life-long damage that you may be causing to your brain. Decision-making, intelligence, including effective memory, pattern matching, calculating, and overall problem solving, can be adversely affected.
I once heard a lecture given by a young man who had overcome a serious addiction problem that had started in high school. He was a good speaker and clearly very intelligent. Yet, his greatest regret, after becoming abstinent, was the significant loss of intelligence.
Apparently, he had started life with a very high, genius-level IQ. I remember that he stated during his talk that he had lost many IQ points, but fortunately, he had the points to lose.
Our brains are our most precious resources in life. Everything comes back to brain function when it comes to surviving and thriving in the world. We only get one brain, so it is in our best interest to protect it at all costs. Sacrificing brain function permanently can be a consequence of underage drinking.
Can underage drinkers be forced to go to rehab?
What happens when drinking alcohol gets out of hand? When young adults and teenagers drink, they are more likely to make bad decisions. They may find themselves driving while intoxicated, or in other dangerous situations. It is not uncommon for intoxicated young people to have unprotected sex with strangers, leading to sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy.
For some young people who drink alcohol excessively on some weekend nights, they may find that their drinking habit extends to more evenings, and even daytime. They may discover that the hangover they have in the morning after a night of drinking can be relieved by drinking more alcohol in the morning.
Excessive drinking over a period of time can lead to alcohol use disorder, which is essentially a drug addiction in which the drug is alcohol. The progression of this mental health disease is insidious. That means that it sneaks up on you and you may not be aware that you are developing it until it is too late.
Eventually, alcoholism spills over into every area of your life. You are late to class or to work, sometimes showing up hungover or slightly drunk. Family members are affected by your behavior and grow increasingly concerned.
How serious is underage drinking when it gets bad enough that your family is prepared to stage an intervention?
Is it possible, if you are a teenager or young adult, that your parents can force you to go to rehab? Are forced treatment and forced rehab appropriate consequences for teenage drinking?
The laws regarding forced addiction treatment and rehab vary from state to state. In many states, there are laws that can be used by your parents to compel you to go to rehab against your will.
In my home state of Florida, there is the Marchman Act, which makes it possible for your parents to hire a lawyer and go before a judge to force you into up to six months of rehab. Other states have similar laws.
can be in your best interest, to get the medical treatment and therapy that you need to overcome excessive, addictive drinking, you may not like the idea of leaving high school or college to go to a residential facility.
How can I prevent being forced into rehab?
There is medical treatment for alcohol use disorder. If you find that you are increasingly having difficulty avoiding alcohol, you can see your doctor about starting treatment. The earlier that you get started, the more effective treatment will be in helping you to reduce or completely stop drinking alcohol.
If you are concerned that your family members are planning to take action against you for excessive drinking, the best thing you can do is to be proactive and take steps towards stopping your alcohol use. You can do this by seeing your doctor for help and by going to effective support meetings, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, or SMART Recovery.
Would you go on a play date with a gorilla?
If you are a young adult or teenager, you may remember going on play dates with your friends. When I was a child, we did not call our play time with friends “play dates.” We just played when we wanted to play and then went home.
In today’s busy world, where everyone has a calendar, people make dates for their children to play. Now, imagine if your mother set up a play date for you with a teenage gorilla. You would probably be terrified, going into the gorilla’s habitat at the zoo to play games, such as catch, tag, or wrestling.
One thing is certain, when it comes to having a play date with a gorilla. The play date is not over until the gorilla decides its over.
Imagine trying to run away and get out of the gorilla’s habitat, and he or she grabs you by the ankle and starts running around, dragging you by the leg. Your head bumps on the hard ground and rocks, as your body is dragged painfully along. It is impossible to break the gorilla’s grip. Gorillas, even teenage apes, are many times stronger than humans.
Unfortunately, unless there is outside intervention, you are going to be dragged around and beat up by your gorilla friend until the gorilla grows tired of playing. Only then, will you have a chance to escape, hopefully with your life and not in critical condition.
Being in active addiction to alcohol is like being on a play date with a gorilla. Unfortunately, in many cases, you do not get to say it’s over until it’s over. Addiction can have a powerful hold on the mind, compelling you to continue harming yourself and others with your alcohol use. It often takes tragic consequences, or the intervention of your loved-ones, to put an end to a harmful alcohol run.
What is the best way to stop underage drinking?
The best way to stop drinking is to not get started in the first place. The effects of teenage drinking are serious. However, if you are already having an issue with alcohol, the best time to ask for help in quitting is right now. Alcohol can damage your liver, brain, heart, and more. The effects of alcohol on your body can shorten your life and diminish the quality of your life. And, it only takes one bad decision, getting into the drivers seat for example, to lead to a tragedy that will stay with you for the rest of your life.
Fortunately, there are many resources to help you quit drinking now. The most important thing to do is ask for help. If you are a teenager or young adult, you can get started by speaking with your family. Talk to your parents, if you are able to.
You can also go to local support meetings and meet other young people who are staying sober and alcohol free successfully.
Again, it is important to make an in-person or telemedicine appointment with your doctor or with a doctor who has experience in treating alcohol use disorder. There are treatments that include medication-assisted treatment
, cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectic behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, contingency management, and much more.
You may also find that practices such as yoga, focused breathing, mindfulness, and meditation are helpful. When you are alcohol-free, pursuing your interests and developing talents can help to make your life more interesting and rewarding, so you no longer feel the need to turn to alcohol.
Therapy is also an important component of recovering from alcoholism. You may choose to see a family therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist for ongoing psychotherapy. In therapy, you can learn more about yourself and develop a psychological toolkit to carry with you to help avoid dangerous triggers in your life.
As you can see, there are many options available to help support your efforts in quitting alcohol use. Now is the best time to start planning for how you are going to approach the issue of stopping your alcohol use. As a young person, you have many years of productive, fulfilling life ahead of you, which you will enjoy and make the best use of without having to struggle with the consequences of excess, addictive alcohol use.