Teenagers and alcoholism

Many people indulge in booze around the Festive Season. Major concern is the use of alcohol by teenagers. A teenager is a growing adult. Physically they are growing, but lack the mental maturity and worldly experience of an adult. They are easily lured into adult vices without knowing the risks of alcoholism. Alcoholism is a chronic and progressive disease that includes difficulty in controlling drinking, being pre-occupied with alcohol and finding it difficult to give up in spite of problems.

Teenagers start drinking alcohol for a variety of reasons. If one has parents who drink regularly, the children are also bound to start drinking and while growing up, they become addicted to it.

Peer pressure is the most influencing factor regarding alcoholism in teenagers. They want to show off to their colleagues and friends that they are bold enough to drink. The boys, particularly, want to show off to their friends and also to the girls around that they are “real men”. Due to this, many teenagers start drinking alcohol. Like adults, some teenagers start alcohol to avoid stress and personal problems.

For whatever reason a youngster takes alcohol, gradually they become habituated to it. They become alcoholics, that is, even if they desire, they find it difficult to give up. Moreover, a youngster is usually not able to handle the drink well and tends to drink more. Binge drinking is common among teenagers. Thus they are exposed more to the ill effects.

Statistics show that alcohol is the most abused substance among adolescents and teenagers. Though legally the sale of alcohol is banned for teenagers in most countries, they still manage to obtain it somehow. An otherwise disciplined teenager can turn into a juvenile delinquent to fulfill the craving for alcohol.

Health related problems due to alcohol also develop in teenagers making them sick. Vomiting and burning pain in the chest and upper abdomen are the most common and earliest problems to develop because of the direct irritant effect of alcohol on the stomach. In case of youngsters accustomed to alcohol, even missing the drink for one or two days makes them sick, compelling them to drink more.

Parents and elders should be vigilant about signs of alcoholism in their zones. Change of personality and behaviour in an adolescent should raise the suspicion of alcohol abuse, for example, a teenager suddenly becoming an introvert or extrovert, or a party animal. Other tell tale signs of alcoholism are loss of interest in surroundings, games and other activities, poor performance in studies, lack of concentration, loss of appetite and weight.

An adolescent has to be explained to about the ill effects of alcohol. If parents have been drinking, they should try to give up alcohol and serve as an example to their children.

It is also important to keep an eye on the company a child keeps, because at this age, children are more influenced by friends than family members. Though difficult at high school and university level as many teenagers stay away from homes, parents should spend some time to get information about the friends their child has, their backgrounds and activities. This should be done in a friendly way. Teenagers should not feel that they are being spied on.

Auditing of the money spent by a teenager is also useful to know if they are spending money on dangerous substances like alcohol.

Adolescents should be kept very busy physically as well as mentally both at home and school. This helps to keep them away from falling prey to addictions.

If youngsters become alcoholics, they need very patient handling. If reprimanded, they may turn more to the bottle. Help of professional counsellors and medical experts should be taken to help the individual get rid of this harmful habit. Teenage years are the time for the development of a future career and good life and it should not be wasted on alcohol.

Dr Rachna Pande,
Specialist, internal medicine