Children and alcohol

Some adults who love taking alcohol during celebrations give a small amount to the children around.  Many of the households where elders drink alcohol have some stored in the house as well. Little do they realise that it is then easily accessible to children as well, who are attracted to it as they watch elders drink. A case I read in recent years is worth sharing. A high school girl carried some vodka (stolen from her grandfather’s collection at home) to school in a water bottle and shared it with a friend. Both youngsters became inebriated in school and started vomiting. It is then when the teacher informed the parents and on questioning the girls, the whole story came out.

In many societies across the world there is the thinking that small amounts of brandy keep a child warm during winter and help cure cold and cough. But this is a myth. Only effect of alcohol is that it widens the blood vessels and creates a sense of flushing and feeling warm over the face. 

Alcohol is harmful for adults and much more for children.  Their bodies are not fully mature to metabolise the alcohol consumed. Brunt falls on the liver as major part of alcohol is metabolised there.  I have personally seen adolescent boys become sick, get hospitalised and die of alcohol induced liver disease. 

Alcohol tends to depress the central nervous system. Due to this, children consuming it can develop seizures or even go into a coma after drinking it.  They become drunk and behave abnormally even with small amounts of alcohol. They can even die.  It lowers the blood sugar level, which can become dangerously low in children, causing death.

The growing bodies of children are much more vulnerable to harmful effects of alcohol. After consuming it, even small amounts can produce nausea and vomiting as it irritates the inner lining of the stomach. Repeated use can result in a youngster developing peptic ulcer disease.  This increases vulnerability to develop stomach cancer in the prime of their lives, as they grow up.

Alcohol provides calories, but no nutrients to the body. One may lose appetite, hence intake of food becomes poor after drinking. It also depletes the body of nutrients, particularly Vitamin B. complex. For these reasons, a growing child is likely to be deprived of necessary nutrition, including calories. As this is the time for natural physical and mental growth of the body, lack of necessary nutrients due to alcohol can affect the physical and mental growth of a child.

Apart from these harmful effects, alcohol also tends to affect the hormonal system of the body. In adolescent girls it can cause menstrual irregularities and sterility later in life. In adolescent boys, it can become the basis for testicular atrophy.  This, in turn, affects sperm production and sterility in adult life, when one desires to have a family. It also causes reduced libido. Presence of libido, nocturnal emissions are signs of a healthy hormonal system in a growing boy, which is affected by alcohol. This can affect relations with opposite sex as adults.

In one line, it can be summarised to say that alcohol is very bad, particularly for children. Adults should realise this and ideally should avoid drinking to become role models for their kids. If necessary, they should keep their stock of alcohol locked up. Empty beer cans, wine bottles, used glasses of alcohol should be put away. 

It is not only alcohol containing beverages that are harmful. But body care products containing alcohol like mouth washes, skin care products, medicines containing alcohol like cough syrups, can also harm a growing child, when used over time repeatedly in small quantity. Therefore, while using something for a child, one should be vigilant enough to see that there is no alcohol.

Dr Rachna Pande,  Specialist, internal medicine

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