Growing up drunk
What alcohol does to your teen’s body and brain.
Almost one in four high school students in grades 8 – 11 indulge in binge drinking, says research conducted by the Medical Research Council. Adolescents are starting to drink at a younger age, with a significant rise of alcohol use among the 11 – 15 year old age group.  

Exposing the teenage brain to alcohol and drugs during its critical developmental period may lead to permanent structural and functional damage.  Here are some of the effects that alcohol use has on a teenage brain:
  • Decreased concentration leading to lack of focus and ability to maintain attention.
  • Long-term memory impairments which creates difficulty to learn new information and recalling past information.
  • Working memory impairments which leads to the lack of capacity of ones working memory, which influences how effectively one can solve problems and manipulate information  
  • Decline in academic achievement – the combination of decreased concentration, long-term memory damage and working memory impairments can result in a decline in academic achievement  

We live in a society where alcohol is part of the way many adults socialise. We also know that adolescence is a period where the teenager acquires and imitates adult behaviour.  

Some risks that teenage drinkers often face

  • Alcohol dependency
  • Crime and violence
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Suicide
  • Sexual assault
  • High-risk sex
  • Reduced performance in sporting activities
  • Alcohol poisoning and death

Why teens drink
Recent studies have shown that the most common reasons are as follows:
  • Escape
  • Boredom and instant friends
  • Rebellion
  • Everybody is doing it…
  • Instant gratification
  • Lack of confidence
  • Parental influences

If you are a parent, be a role model.  Engage with your child on the issue of alcohol and the harmful effects alcohol has on a teenager. Unless the parent enters into a conversation with their children on the issue, it will be determined to a great extent by others who do not have your child’s best interests at heart.

Where to get help
  • Alcoholics Anonymous South Africa National Helpline 0861 435 722    
  • Narconon South Africa 011 622 3998    
  • AL-ATEEN General Service Number 021 595 4508    
  • Life-Line 0861 322 322

“The use of alcohol by teenagers carries with it a range of harmful consequences, and it is time that South Africans need to acknowledge that we live in a society where alcohol is being used in significant quantities by a large number of teenagers,” says Adrian Botha, spokesperson for The Industry Association for Responsible Alcohol Use (ARA). 

This information first appeared in: Teenagers & Alcohol, a practical guide to assist parents in initiating conversations with their children about alcohol- related issues, launched by The ARA in 2008.  

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