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Teen Alcohol Abuse

Unfortunately, teenage alcohol abuse is a prevalent problem around the world. The seriousness of this issue cannot be understated. Teenagers are more susceptible to alcohol and drug addiction than adults, and the consequences are real and substantial. 

Research shows that people who begin drinking before age fifteen are four times more likely to develop a substance use disorder. 

How Does Alcohol Affect Teenagers’ Brains?

Teenage brains are still developing. The prefrontal cortex, which is the area of the brain responsible for judgment, decision making, and impulse control, doesn’t reach its full density until age 25 to 30. Neither does the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain involved in memory and learning.

Teenagers’ developing brains make them much more likely to engage in dangerous drinking. Drinking furthers their inability to make sound decisions while they are intoxicated. Furthermore, alcohol affects the development of the brain. 

Long term adverse effects of teenage drinking include:

  • An increased risk of developing an alcohol use disorder (AUD)
  • Problems with learning and memory
  • Decreased problem-solving skills
  • Poor performance in school and work responsibilities
  • Many health risks such as liver and heart disease

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Teen Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is defined as having four to five drinks within two hours and is the most common form of substance abuse among teenagers. 

One in four high school students binge drink every month.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 

Binge drinking is incredibly dangerous, especially for teenagers. As noted above, the decision-making center of the brain is still developing. Binge drinking further impairs their judgment and increases the likelihood that they will put themselves in dangerous situations.

Binge drinking is associated with many health problems, such as:

  • Avoidable injuries from falls, burns, car crashes, and alcohol poisoning
  • Violence and assault
  • Sexual assault and domestic violence
  • Risky sexual behavior and increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy
  • Chronic health diseases later in life including high blood pressure, liver disease, and stroke
  • Cancer of the liver, colon, mouth, throat, and breast
  • Memory and learning problems
  • Developing alcohol use disorders

Teen Drunk Driving

Impaired judgment may cause teens to get behind the wheel of their car. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of teenage deaths in the United States, and about one out of every four accidents involve alcohol. 

Teen Drinking and Sexual Assault


Nearly 50 percent of all adolescent females have been sexually assaulted in some way. Approximately 20 percent of these sexual assaults involved alcohol

Alcohol-Related Sexual Assault Victimization Among Adolescents: Prevalence, Characteristics, and Correlates

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How to Recognize if Your Teen Needs Alcohol Rehab

Not all teens that abuse alcohol will need to go to rehab. Alcohol treatment is most useful for adolescents who have an alcohol use disorder. Here are some signs that your teenager may have a severe problem with alcohol:

  • Sudden and drastic changes in behavior and appearance
  • Lying about alcohol use
  • Borrowing or stealing money for alcohol
  • A sudden drop in grades
  • Getting in trouble at school or with police for drinking
  • Hanging out with new friends that drink
  • Giving up previous activities in favor of partying

What to Do if Your Teen Needs Rehab

If your teen has a problem with alcohol, the first thing you should do is talk with their doctor or therapist. Many medical facilities will have resources that you can utilize. If they don’t have any services in house, they will be able to refer you to somewhere that does. 

Types of Alcohol Rehab for Teens

Alcohol rehabilitation programs are designed to help patients achieve a full recovery and live a healthy, sober life afterward. The best treatment option will depend on the patient’s physical and mental health condition, school and work responsibilities, living situation, and their support system.

The three most common types of alcohol rehab for teenagers are:

Inpatient Treatment — is the most intensive type of rehab program. Patients live at the facility and undergo detox and several highly structured therapies and activities to help them get sober. These treatment programs yield the highest rates of success.

Outpatient Treatment are meant for people who have a high level of motivation to quit drinking, or have school, work, or familial obligations they need to continue throughout recovery. Patients attend treatment at the facility most days but return home afterward.

Partial Hospitalization ProgramsPartial hospitalization programs are intensive outpatient programs. Patients receive medical attention and supervision (if necessary) and attend treatment most days of the week, but return home to sleep. 

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Resources

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Odgers, Candice L et al. “Is it important to prevent early exposure to drugs and alcohol among adolescents?.” Psychological science vol. 19,10 (2008): 1037-44. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02196.x, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19000215/.

Winters, Ken C, and Chih-Yuan S Lee. “Likelihood of developing an alcohol and cannabis use disorder during youth: association with recent use and age.” Drug and alcohol dependence vol. 92,1-3 (2008): 239-47. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2007.08.005, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2219953/.

“NIAAA Publications.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh284/213-221.htm.

“Binge Drinking Is a Serious but Preventable Problem of Excessive Alcohol Use.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 Dec. 2019, www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/binge-drinking.htm.

Young, Amy et al. “Alcohol-related sexual assault victimization among adolescents: prevalence, characteristics, and correlates.” Journal of studies on alcohol and drugs vol. 69,1 (2008): 39-48. doi:10.15288/jsad.2008.69.39, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2713994/

“Teen Drivers: Get the Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 Oct. 2019, www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/teen_drivers/teendrivers_factsheet.html. 

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Addiction Resources for American Communities

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Teen Alcohol Rehab

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Underage Drinking

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