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What Is the Connection between Alcohol and Adolescence?

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  • Written By: B. Miller
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 04 September 2016
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There are a number of connections between alcohol and adolescence that contribute to the problem of underage drinking. In many countries around the world, adolescents under age 18 or 21 are not legally allowed to drink, but underage drinking remains a problem anyway. Researchers have determined a number of causes for this connection between alcohol and adolescence. One of the most significant is that the portion of the brain that regulates an individual's decisions regarding risky behavior is not fully developed yet. In addition, many teens seem to display a much higher tolerance for alcohol, in that they do not experience as many of the more negative side effects, such as a headache or feeling tired the next day.

Brain development is one of the largest contributors to the problems with alcohol and adolescence. Teens simply do not have a fully developed frontal cortex. As a result, they do not have fully developed judgment and risk assessment skills, and may perceive the risks of underage drinking to be much lower than they actually are. The fact that their brains aren't fully developed also contributes to the way they experience the effects of alcohol, and may contribute to heavier drinking whenever they do consume alcohol.

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Studies have shown that teens experience fewer negative side effects from alcohol than adults with fully developed brains. For example, teens might not experience a hangover, or drowsiness following alcohol consumption the way most adults will. This contributes to the problems of alcohol and adolescence because it causes teens to drink, thinking they will not experience any ill effects. This is not true, though; teens are even more susceptible to alcohol poisoning because of this, and their hand-eye coordination and motor function are still significantly impaired, leading to potential injuries or car accidents.

Connections between alcohol and adolescence exist for other reasons as well. Peer pressure is a leading cause of drinking in teens, particularly if teens begin drinking when they are still quite young, such as age 13 or younger. They might perceive drinking alcohol as a "cool" thing to do in order to fit in. If kids have a parent with a drinking problem, they might also be more likely to begin drinking in adolescence due to these hereditary effects. Underage drinking is an extremely dangerous behavior for adolescents to engage in, and is a frequent cause of injury or death among this age group, so it is very important for parents and caregivers to monitor teens, and ensure they are not drinking before they are old enough.

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