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Underage drinking not a rite of passage

Alcohol is by far the most misused substance in our country. It is abused by adults and misused by youth. Many people think that the legal drinking age of 21 is just an arbitrary age assigned by the government so that there is no harm in consuming alcohol under that age. They could not be more mistaken.

Like all drugs, alcohol enters the body’s bloodstream and is carried to all parts of the body. In a teen’s body, which is not fully developed, the alcohol has altering effects on the body chemistry.

Ethanol, the intoxicating ingredient in alcohol is s chemical depressant. It is water soluble and is quickly carried through every organ of the body. Ethanol sedates the inhibiting and suppressing mechanisms of the brain and central nervous system making the adolescent more vulnerable to the toxic effects of ethanol.

What does all this mean?

Teens are already subject to mood swings due to the complex chemical changes associated with puberty. When alcohol is added on top of those chemicals, the teen is at serious risk for:

• a surge in “sex” hormones making them more likely to engage in risky sexual activity;

• an increase in anxiety and confusion which can be overwhelming for teens already feeling depressed and may lead to suicidal behavior;

• more impulsive and irrational behaviors are promoted which may result in driving under the influence or taking dangerous changes with safety; and

• an increase in aggressive “acting out” tendencies which could lead to fights or other violent confrontations.

Parents who support their child drinking because they are in the home are not doing their child any favors. They are still at risk for the above problems and youth that start drinking under the age of 16 are four times more likely to be adult alcoholics.

Teens are more at risk for binge drinking – consuming large amounts in short times frames (usually on the weekends). The result of the heavy influx of alcohol can speed of the level of toxicity in the body and lead to alcohol poisoning, coma, and death. Binge drinkers are also like to become chronic drinkers – consuming large amounts regularly which will lead to alcohol addiction.

During the summer, youth are typically less supervised because they are out of school. This can result in increased access to alcoholic beverages in the home. Some parents even go so far as to make the products available to their children.

Parents as well as any adult who is contact with youth need to ensure careful storage of alcohol. Keeping it under lock and key is the safest choice. When that is not feasible, adults need to pay attention to how much they have so they can determine if any amount has been used.

Make sure you know where your children are and with whom they are spending time. In addition, get to know the parents of the your child’s friends so you can have some reasonable information about what they may be doing when visiting.

Parents should not be afraid to ask questions about what their child does. The child’s safety and well-being should be the parent’s most important goals. Even though school is out of session, parents should not take a break from this.
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source: The Paper of Montgomery County

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