Alcohol is everywhere, from parents who indulge in real life to favorite characters who regularly drink in movies and on TV. As a result, the temptation to drink at a party or while hanging out with friends can be hard to resist. With so much exposure, it’s understandable that you might be curious about drinking; however, the often lighthearted and fun portrayals of alcohol consumption show just a fraction of what can happen when people, particularly teens, drink.
As a teenager, your body is still developing, and alcohol impacts teen bodies differently and much more harshly than it does adults. In addition, its effects can be dangerous in a number of different ways. This is one of the main reasons why alcohol is illegal until you turn 21. Yet, despite knowing that alcohol is illegal, a large number of teens still drink. In fact, 11 percent of the alcohol that’s consumed in the U.S. is drunk by people who are underage. To avoid the dangers associated with drinking at such a young age, it’s important to understand what exactly they are.
Effects of Alcohol
Alcohol affects teens in a variety of ways, with some having long-lasting consequences. Because it is a depressant, alcohol slows down the central nervous system, which includes the brain and the spinal cord. At first, this might make a person feel relaxed. But as you drink more, the alcohol can make it difficult to think or pay attention and cause blurred vision and slurred speech. Alcohol slows your reflexes, so you’ll stagger when you walk, and you might feel confused, overly friendly, or extremely angry. Alcohol can also cause or worsen emotional or mental problems such as depression or anxiety. Because the brain keeps developing until you’re in your 20s, alcohol can potentially impair your brain’s development, causing problems with your memory, ability to learn, and decision-making skills.
Binge drinking has become a popular yet problematic behavior. When a person binges, they consume a large amount of alcohol, at least four or five drinks, in as little as two hours. They’ll do this at least once in any two-week period of time; however, frequent binge drinkers may repeat this behavior three times or more in a two-week period. This behavior can have dangerous consequences, such as alcohol poisoning. It can also cause health problems, unplanned pregnancy, suicidal thoughts, or accidents caused by drinking and driving. Binge drinking can hurt your performance in school, cause violent behavior, and destroy friendships.
Drinking and Driving
It’s illegal to drink before you’re 21, and it’s also illegal to have any amount of alcohol in your system when driving. The importance of not driving while intoxicated goes beyond the possibility of legal trouble, fines, or losing your license. Drunk driving endangers yourself, your passengers, and everyone else on the road. In fact, accidents caused by alcohol use are the leading cause of teen deaths in the United States, according to the CDC. As a teen driver, your inexperience coupled with the effects of alcohol increase your odds of getting into a car accident and the odds of being killed in one, too. Alcohol reduces reaction times, hinders good judgment, and makes it difficult to focus. Being drunk can also impair a driver’s vision and make them feel sleepy behind the wheel.
Peer Pressure and Alcohol
No one wants to be unpopular or lose friends, especially when you’re in high school. This need to fit in and be included is one of the biggest influences when it comes to drinking. Even people who wouldn’t normally drink may do so if their classmates or friends try to push them into it. This is known as negative peer pressure, and it can come in the form of teasing, mocking, or excluding someone from social activities. Giving in to peer pressure can result in harmful behavior such as drinking too much or drinking and driving. Dealing with this type of pressure is hard, especially when it comes from someone who has been a friend for a long time. Saying no is the first step in resisting peer pressure. When doing so, be firm and make eye contact. It’s also important to stop interacting with the people who keep pushing you to drink after they’ve been told no. Instead, make friends with people who don’t drink or suggest and encourage other activities.
- Effects and Consequences of Underage Drinking (PDF)
- Alcohol and Teens
- Teens and Alcohol
- Dangers of Teen Drinking
- Underage Drinking FAQ and Statistics
- Teen Drivers: Get the Facts
- Underage Drinking and Driving: A Parent and Teen Guide (PDF)
- Driving Drunk Can Kill
- Drunk Driving and Teen Drinking
- Underage Drinking
- The Right to Resist: Resisting Spoken Pressure
- Peer Pressure
- TeensHealth: Binge Drinking
- Binge Drinking
- Teen Binge Drinking: Common and Risky
- Fact Sheet: The Dangers of Binge Drinking (PDF)