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Long-Term Effects of Underage Alcohol Abuse

Underage alcohol abuse can have serious consequences. Although alcohol is legal and available to those over the age of 21, it can cause significant changes in the body of an adolescent. Underage alcohol abuse can result in a number of long-term consequences including:

  • Physical problems
  • Unintended, unwanted, or unprotected sexual activity
  • Alcohol-related car crashes
  • Unintentional injuries from falls, drowning
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • An increased risk of suicide
  • Academic issues
  • Social problems

These and other impacts may be permanent or take a very long time to reverse, even with alcoholism treatment.

What Happens Because of Underage Alcohol Abuse?

A young adult’s decision-making capacity is also affected by alcohol, which means that young people who drink are more likely to take risks and behave in ways that could lead to injuries, illness, or death. In one study by Hingston and Kenkel, it was shown that teens who started drinking at 15 rather than 21 were around 12 times more likely to be injured while intoxicated, 10 times more likely to get into a physical fight, and seven times more likely to get into a collision while driving.

In the long-term, studies have shown that minors who begin drinking before the age of 15 are more likely to have serious, life-long problems and are more likely to struggle with alcohol dependence than those who started drinking at a later age. When beginning to drink before the age of 15, they have a 41% chance of future dependence on alcohol. The risk is only 10% for those who start drinking at age 21.

Other long-term consequences of underage alcohol abuse may include:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression
  • A higher risk of suicide/suicide attempts
  • Conduct disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Dependency on tobacco or drugs
  • Academic issues
  • Chronic health problems, like liver cirrhosis, pancreatitis, and hepatitis

What Are the Effects of Alcohol On the Brain?

According to the National Institutes of Health, the hippocampus shrinks, or does not grow as large, in teens who are alcohol dependent compared to those who are not.

A study by Brown and Tapert showed that the brain structure’s development may be altered or stunted as a result of drinking alcohol too soon and in too great a quantity. During adolescence, the brain starts working on creating efficient neural pathways by speeding up the transmission of neurons and starting synaptic refinement. During this age, adolescent brains are developing the areas in the frontal and prefrontal cortex, where people begin to consider the consequences of their actions, manage drives, and develop stress responses.

Using alcohol during that development could lead to negative effects on the development of the brain, harming the memory and causing damage to the frontal regions of the brain.

What Factors Lead to Underage Drinking?

Some factors that may lead to underage drinking include:

  • Family acceptance of drinking
  • A lack of parental control/monitoring
  • Easy access to alcohol at home
  • Underlying physiological, genetic, or psychiatric traits

Many of these factors are environmental, but some people may be predisposed to addiction due to their genetic traits. Mental health disorders are also more likely to be linked in with alcohol, either as a cause or result of excessive drinking.

Contact Atlantic Recovery Center for Underage Alcohol Abuse Support

If your child is struggling with substance abuse, it is important that they receive alcoholism treatment as soon as possible. At Atlantic Recovery Center, we offer family therapy, intensive outpatient programs, dual diagnosis treatment, and other options that can help anyone with substance abuse concerns. The earlier you or a loved one start treatment, the sooner you’ll be able to see the results. Call us today at 1-866-824-5193 to learn more about the services we offer.