Even though national statistics show that alcohol abuse in teens has declined in recent years, the frequency of abuse and the amount of the drug consumed still exceed most other substances, reports the National Institute on Drug Abuse. For example, in 2013, nearly 13 percent of 10th graders and 26 percent of 12th graders reported that they had gotten drunk in the past 30 days.
Throughout history, teens have engaged in risk-taking behavior. But the potential risks of alcohol abuse are too severe to ignore:
- Alcohol poisoning
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Accidental injuries (falls, burns, drowning, etc.)
- Sexual assault
- Sexually transmitted diseases
The long-term effects of alcohol abuse are just as serious. Alcohol abuse affects all of the body’s systems, causing liver disease, heart disease, stroke, pancreatitis, stomach distress, nerve damage, brain atrophy and dementia. Alcoholism also increases the risk of cancer and diabetes. While most teens may believe that they’re immune to chronic conditions like liver failure or dementia, it’s hard to overlook the more immediate neurological side effects of alcohol in adolescents who drink heavily:
- Learning difficulties
- Sensory impairment
- Poor motor skills
- Memory problems
- Emotional disturbances
- Negative personality changes
It’s never too soon to intervene on behalf of a teenager who’s abusing alcohol. Although not all teens who abuse alcohol will advance to alcoholism, heavy drinking greatly increases the risk of alcohol dependence and addiction.
When Do Teens Start Drinking?
Teens today are hitting the bottle earlier than they did 40 or 50 years ago.
Statistics from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism show that in 1965, teens began drinking at age 17, on average. In 2003, teenagers began drinking at an average age of 14. Even more disturbingly, teens who start drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to become problem drinkers or alcoholics later in life.
On the positive side, early education and prevention may lower the risk of developing alcoholism. According to the Journal of Substance Abuse, the chances of becoming addicted to alcohol in adulthood decrease by up to 5 percent for each year that a teen puts off taking that first drink.
How Much and How Often Do Young People Drink?
The number of teens who drink isn’t as troubling as the amount of alcohol that they consume. Binge drinking—defined as consuming five or more alcoholic beverages on a single occasion — is an increasingly common practice among high school and college students. Heavy drinking is defined as drinking five or more alcoholic beverages on five or more occasions in a 30-day time period. According to the 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, binge drinking and heavy drinking are quite common among teens:
- Nearly 23 percent of Americans over the age of 11 engaged in binge drinking.
- Nearly 7 percent of Americans in this age group engaged in heavy drinking.
- The majority of the binge drinkers and heavy drinkers were ages 18 to 25.
- The majority of drinkers who engaged in both binge drinking and heavy drinking were 21 years old.
From a developmental standpoint, teens are at an age where the desire for pleasure and instant gratification usually overpowers judgment. In an unsupervised drinking situation, teens are more likely to respond to peer pressure than to think about their future goals or their parents’ concerns. Because they lack experience with alcohol, adolescents can consume dangerous quantities before they realize that they’re intoxicated.
What Are the Health Risks of Drinking?
Alcohol poisoning occurs when a drinker consumes more alcohol than his or her body can safely metabolize. Teens are highly susceptible to alcohol poisoning because they rarely recognize the signs that they’ve overindulged. By the time a young drinker passes out or gets sick, he may already be dangerously intoxicated.
The Alcohol-Related Disease Impact Report analyzes the short- and long-term risks associated with drinking in the United States. In the years between 2006 and 2010, there were a total of 4,358 alcohol-related deaths among young people under the age of 21 in the US. Out of this number:
- 184 young people died of alcohol-related health conditions, such as liver failure, stroke and seizures
- 1,580 died in motor vehicle crashes in which alcohol was a factor
- 1,269 of alcohol-related homicide
- 492 died of suicide
- 346 died of poisoning from a substance other than alcohol, such as illicit drugs
- 122 died of drowning
- 33 died in falls
In healthy teenagers, violence, accidents and overdoses are much more likely to cause injuries and death than chronic disease. However, teenage drinking sets the stage for a host of physical and psychological health problems in the years to come.
How Many Teens Get Treatment?
Getting teenagers into alcohol rehab can be extremely challenging. Adolescents are unlikely to acknowledge that they need help or to reach out to others when they’re having problems with substance abuse. In middle school, high school and college, drinking heavily is not only accepted but also widely approved. Teens who drink at social gatherings are considered part of the “in” crowd, while those who avoid alcohol are viewed as “dorks,” “nerds” or “prudes.”
Parents can be slow to perceive the signs of problem drinking in their teenage children. It’s easy to overlook substance abuse in teens, especially if they’re managing to keep up with grades, activities and sports. By the time a teen’s substance abuse becomes obvious, he may be falling behind in school, having problems with the law, or recovering from a serious motor vehicle accident.
The need for specialized substance abuse treatment for adolescents is becoming more apparent. The National Institutes of Health reports that in the 12-to-17 age group, only 10 percent of those with a substance abuse problem received any treatment in 2012. According to the 2012 Treatment Episode Data Set, which provides statistics on substance abuse and treatment in the US:
- Nearly 18 percent of teens age 15 to 17 who were admitted to substance abuse treatment facilities in 2012 reported that alcohol was their primary drug of abuse (by comparison, nearly 72 percent reported that their primary drug was marijuana).
- Over 50 percent of adolescents in this age group (56 percent) had used alcohol for the first time at ages 12 to 14.
- Over 50 percent were referred to treatment by the court system.
- Nearly 73 percent of older teens admitted to treatment were males.
- Nearly 50 percent of teens admitted to treatment were Caucasian.
Out of the older adolescents who were admitted to treatment, over 30 percent had been to rehab at least once in the past. Relapse rates are high among teenagers and adults alike. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors estimates that up to four-fifths of adolescents who enter substance abuse treatment at a community-based facility or hospital will relapse within six months after completing the program.
Social pressure from peers is cited as one of the most common reasons for relapse in recovering adolescents.
Negative emotions like anger, jealousy or frustration are another common cause of relapse in teens, as are positive emotions like excitement or joy. Teenagers who relapse tend to have poor social support systems and low self-esteem. Many also suffer from undiagnosed mental illness.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration states that the majority of teenagers who abuse drugs or alcohol also have a psychiatric disorder. The most common co-occurring mental health disorders in these teens are conduct disorders, mood disorders and depression. For these teens, conventional rehab programs are rarely successful. Unless a rehab program integrates mental health care with substance abuse treatment, an addicted teen is likely to drop out or to relapse.
Finding the Treatment You Need
Locating the right treatment program for a teen with an alcohol problem isn’t easy. Services for adults still outnumber the facilities that are dedicated to adolescent recovery. Many facilities offer combined services for adults and teens—a situation that is often inappropriate for both age groups. Here are a few factors to consider when you’re searching for an alcohol rehab facility for teenagers:
- Is the facility dedicated to treating a specific age group?
- Does the rehab center provide neuropsychological testing?
- Does the program offer gender-specific rehab (for boys or girls only)?
- Does the facility provide ongoing education and individualized tutoring?
- Is therapy provided for family members as well as the individual client?
- Does the program offer alternative treatment modalities, like adventure therapy?
The treatment center at Muir Wood is dedicated to helping boys ages 12 to 17 recover from alcohol or drug abuse. Our facility provides gender-specific services in order to allow our young clients to focus all of their attention on recovery. By concentrating on the needs of troubled boys, we can address the specific challenges that these teens face as approach manhood. Because we recognize the importance of continuing education during rehab, we offer personalized, on-site academic services.
If you’re ready to reach out for help for teen with an alcohol problem, we’re here to provide answers and support. Call our toll-free number at any time for a confidential discussion with our compassionate admissions counselors.