Consequences of alcohol intake by underage persons
Adolescence can be a wonderful time filled with physical and emotional growth. For some youth, however, adolescence takes a dark turn, especially when underage alcohol use is involved.
Underage alcohol use increases the risk of academic failure, illicit drug use, and tobacco use. It can cause a range of physical consequences, from hangovers to death from alcohol poisoning, suicide, homicide, and traffic crashes. annually, about 4,300 people under age 21 die from injuries involving underage drinking.
Drugs and alcohol can feel like a way to escape your problems and unwind/have fun. But they can also take a toll on your mental health. Drugs and alcohol can mess with your mind. By their very nature they’re designed to affect your mood, which means they are altering how your brain functions. In 2013, adults who had their first drink at age 14 or younger were more likely to be classified with alcohol dependence or abuse than adults who had their first drink at age 21 or older (14.8 vs. 2.3 percent).
In adolescence, brain development is characterized by dramatic changes to the brain’s
structure, neuron connectivity (i.e., “wiring”) and physiology. These changes in the brain affect everything from emerging sexuality to emotional and judgment.
Not all parts of the adolescent brain mature at the same time, which may put an adolescent at a disadvantage in certain situations. For example, the limbic areas of the brain mature earlier than the frontal lobes. The limbic areas regulate emotions and are associated with an adolescent’s lowered sensitivity to risk. The frontal lobes are responsible for self-regulation, judgment, reasoning, problem-solving, and impulse control. Differences in maturation among parts of the brain can result in impulsive decisions or actions and a disregard for consequences.
Alcohol affects an adolescent’s brain development in many ways. The effects of underage drinking on specific brain activities are explained below.
In general, when a person thinks of something he wants his body to do, the central nervous system comprising the brain and the spinal cord, sends a signal to that part of the body. Alcohol slows down the central nervous system, making the person think, speak, and move slower.
Specifically, alcohol affects the following parts of the brain:
1. CEREBRAL CORTEX:
Alcohol slows down the cerebral cortex as it works with information from a person’s senses.
2. FRONTAL LOBES:
The brain’s frontal lobes are important for planning, forming ideas, making decisions, and using self-control.
When alcohol affects the frontal lobes of the brain, a person may find it hard to control his or her emotions and urges. The person may act without thinking or may even become violent.
Drinking alcohol over a long period of time can damage the frontal lobes forever.
The hippocampus is the part of the brain where memories are made. When alcohol reaches the hippocampus, a person may have trouble remembering something he or she just learned, such as a name or a phone number. This can happen after just one or two drinks, if alcohol damages the hippocampus; a person may find it hard to learn and to hold on to knowledge.
The cerebellum is important for coordination, thoughts, and awareness. A person may have trouble with these skills when alcohol enters the cerebellum. After drinking alcohol, a person’s hands may be so shaky that they can’t touch or grab things normally, and they may lose their balance and fall.
The hypothalamus is a small part of the brain that does an amazing number of the body’s housekeeping chores. Alcohol upsets the work of the hypothalamus. After a person drinks alcohol, blood pressure, hunger, thirst, and the urge to urinate increase while body temperature and heart rate decrease.
The medulla controls the body’s automatic actions, such as a person’s heartbeat. It also keeps the body at the right temperature. Alcohol actually chills the body. Drinking a lot of alcohol outdoors in cold weather can cause a person’s body temperature to fall below normal. This dangerous condition is called hypothermia.