In general terms, alcohol abuse can be defined as using alcohol in a manner or situation that it is not meant to be used. By this definition, any use of alcohol by teens would be abuse, because teens are not legally allowed to buy or consume alcohol. However, by the time they are seniors, most American high school students will have tried alcohol . Alcoholism among teens is a serious issue not only because it is so easily obtained, but also because adolescence marks a critical period in the brain’s development, and damage that occurs during this period may be irreversible.
Teen alcohol addiction can be evident in psychological and physical symptoms that may be mistaken as part of adolescence, rather than indicators of an addiction. For this reason, teens may be addicted to alcohol for a prolonged period before parents or other adults notice a problem.
Teen Alcohol Abuse vs. Teen Alcohol Addiction
Teen alcohol abuse is simply the consumption of alcohol by teens. Alcohol abuse at any age typically leads to an addiction, because as you continue to regularly consume alcohol, your body begins to need larger amounts to achieve the same effects. Many teens may consume alcohol once or twice and not become addicted, but the transition from abuse to dependency is often rapid and hard to monitor. When you can no longer control whether or not you use alcohol, then you have an alcohol addiction. A teen who is addicted to alcohol becomes so used to drinking that he feels compelled to continue using, even if he knows there will be negative consequences as a result of that use.
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A physical addiction to alcohol means that your body is dependent on it. As you continue to consume alcohol, your body becomes dependent on it and you will experience several withdrawal symptoms if it does not receive its usual dose. These withdrawal symptoms commonly include:
- Digestive problems
When a psychological addiction to alcohol is formed, the cravings for alcohol become emotionally based instead of just physical. You may feel a desire for alcohol that is so intense, that you will do anything, even illegal activities, to get it. This compulsion can turn into panic or anxiety if you cannot obtain enough alcohol to satisfy your desire.
Warning Signs to Look Out for
Sometimes it’s difficult to know when a teen is abusing alcohol, but knowing the signs of alcoholism are as important as understanding the dangers of teen alcohol addiction. There are several warning signs that suggest teen alcohol abuse. These may include physical signs such as:
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Disrupted sleeping habits
- Mood fluctuations
- Feeling sick or shaky when abstaining from alcohol
- Needing to consume increasing amounts alcohol to feel the same level of intoxication
In addition to the physical signs of addiction, there are several psychological signs that indicate a teen is addicted to alcohol. These include:
- Needing alcohol to relax or deal with problems
- Withdrawal or isolation
- Decreased interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Issues at school
- Sudden changes in friends
- Dishonesty or theft
- Thinking about how to obtain alcohol consumes more and more of your time
Warning signs that may be visible to those close to a teen who is abusing alcohol may include:
- Staying out late
- Frequent partying
- Regular or frequent intoxication
- Feeling alcohol is necessary in order to have a good time
- Suicidal thoughts or feelings
- Blacking out
What are the Side Effects of Alcoholism?
Alcohol addiction can have several negative long-term and short-term physical side effects. Some of these side effects may be irreversible. For example, alcohol, when consumed in large amounts, can result in permanent neurological damage.
Long-term side effects that may result from teen alcohol abuse include:
- Liver problems
- Stomach ulcers
- Cardiovascular disease
- Neurological issues
Short-term side effects that may result from teen alcohol abuse include:
- Passing out
- Nausea or vomiting
- Trouble breathing
- Alcohol poisoning
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Take our free, 5-minute substance abuse self-assessment below if you think you or someone you love might be struggling with substance abuse. This evaluation consists of 11 yes or no questions that are designed to be used as an informational tool to assess the severity and probability of a substance use disorder. The test is free, confidential, and no personal information is needed to receive the result. Please be aware that this evaluation is not a substitute for advice from a medical doctor.