It was shocking to see a young boy, merely 16 years having deranged liver function. On examination and with investigations, he was found to have liver cirrhosis. The underlying cause for liver cirrhosis being alcohol, which he had consumed since five of age.
Later on, I came to know that young children are given alcohol by their parents to taste initially in get together or weddings, when they are drinking. Once the young guys start taking alcohol even in small amounts, the body cells get habituated to it causing physical and mental dependence over the years. This is a state where there is strong urge to drink alcohol and without it one would feel sick. Thus even if one wants to give up he finds it difficult.
These parents are ignorant about the toxic effects of alcohol. No parent will knowingly give something harmful to their children. These innocent children do not know the harmful effects of alcohol and how it harms the physical and mental health of young children.
Alcohol causes behavioural and neurological abnormalities, as well as damage to many parts of body including the liver, heart, pancreas, nerves and brain, among others.
Children develop early and more severe adverse effects due to alcohol because of lesser muscle mass compared to grown up adults. The liver of a child is also not mature enough to detoxify alcohol consumed in adequate amount. The brain cells are also affected by alcohol even in small amount This leads to learning problems and behavior abnormalities.. Thus by the time one is a teenager, there may be irreversible liver disease or chronic health problems like diabetes, hypertension, heart diseases, e.t.c. Along with physical growth, endocrine system of a child also matures. Hormonal disruption caused by alcohol leads to testicular atrophy, sexual impotence and breast enlargement in boys even before they grow in to mature adults. Similarly young girls can have menstrual disturbances and sterility when they grow up.
Once he/she is sick and wants to quit alcohol, it becomes difficult due to withdrawal symptoms in children, which are more severe than adults. These manifest as restlessness, insomnia, tremors in fingers, behavioural changes, e.t.c.
A growing child is also deprived of essential nutrients if he takes to drinking alcohol regularly. These nutrients are necessary for a strong body in the future. Thus a child can suffer from malnutrition.
The need is for adults to know the harmful effects of alcohol and try to quit drinking. Thus youngsters emulating them will also give it up before it is too late. In no way alcohol should be given to young children, even if it is a festive occasion. If a child has formed habit of drinking, efforts should be made to help him get rid of this habit.
Social counselors, doctors and psychologists can work together as a team to counsel a child and motivate him to quit this habit. Drugs are available to help overcome withdrawal symptoms.
It is vital to give due attention to the nutrition of a child who is addicted to alcohol. The diet should be balanced containing fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, milk, eggs, e.t.c. Outdoor activities and sports are also helpful. The child should be kept busy in creative activities so that his mind is not diverted to drinking again.
Dr Rachna Pande,
Specialist, internal medicine