underage drinking

Underage Drinking and Alcohol Dependency

By Scott Breidbart, MD, Chief Clinical Officer, EmblemHealth

Underage drinking is a serious problem in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that alcohol is a factor in the deaths of more than 4,000 young people, under age 21 each year. In addition, on a yearly average, more than 180,000 young people are seen in an emergency room for alcohol-related injuries.

As high school prom celebrations and graduation ceremonies are being planned, it’s important that we all take the responsibility to reduce alcohol use by teenagers, and to educate our communities about the risks of alcohol abuse.

Even adults who drink moderate amounts may find that they have slower motor coordination and that they lack the ability to think clearly and to make wise decisions. Additionally, they may have less self-control.

Adults who drink more than moderate amounts may feel sick the next day and experience memory loss. These symptoms are signs of brain dysfunction, and continued heavy drinking can cause permanent brain damage.

Research shows that people who start drinking heavily before the age of 15 are six times more likely to develop alcohol dependency or abuse.

Continued excessive drinking can also lead to chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and liver problems. These health problems may occur at all socioeconomic levels, from the homeless to the wealthy, and can lead to death despite optimal medical treatment.

During this celebratory time, it’s necessary for parents and health professionals to reiterate the dangers of teenage drinking. Homicide, sexual abuse, fatal falls and car accidents are all caused in part by impaired judgement, a result of drinking alcohol.

Collectively, health professionals need to educate their patients about the short-and long-term health outcomes that result from excessive underage drinking. By helping to prevent underage drinking, we can reduce alcohol-related death, injuries and long-term illnesses.

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For more information visit, cdc.gov/alcohol.