August , 2018
Underage drinking
15:17 pm

Rohit Prasad

Although the stereotypical alcoholics are often assumed to be middle aged or adults, alcoholism among teenagers has always been a huge problem,which is only growing with each passing year. For adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17, alcohol has become a substance used regularly. Reportedly, about half of junior high and senior high school students drink alcohol on a regular, monthly basis while around 14% of adolescents have been under this influence at least once in the last year. While around 8% of teens admit that they binge drink, there are teens who also admit to using alcohol in combination with other addictive substances, often marijuana. For those who do not know what binge drinking means- it is the modern epithet for drinking alcoholic beverages with an intention of becoming intoxicated by heavy consumption of alcohol over a short period of time. It is a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dl. This typically occurs after 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men in about 2 hours. The facts and figures are collected from the website of NIAAA (USA), an institute devoted towards studying and preventing the use of alcoholism across the globe. Started in America, now growing across the globe.

According to reports of the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA),“The younger the children and adolescents are when they start to drink, the more likely they will be to engage in behaviours that harm themselves and others.” For example, frequent binge drinkers are more likely to use drugs such as marijuana and cocaine, have sex with six or more partners, and earn grades that are mostly poor in school.

Why do some adolescents drink?

As children move from adolescence to young adulthood, they encounter dramatic physical, emotional, and lifestyle changes. Developmental transitions, such as puberty and increasing independence have been associated with alcoholism. So, in a sense, not being an adolescent may be a key risk factor not only for starting to drink but also for drinking dangerously.

Risk taking- Research shows the brain keeps developing well into the twenties, during which time it continues to establish important communication connections and further refines its functions. Scientists believe that this lengthy developmental period may help explain some behaviour, which is characteristic of adolescence-such as their propensity to seek out new and potentially dangerous situations. For some teens, thrill-seeking might include experimenting with alcohol.

Expectancies- How people view alcohol and its effects also influences their drinking behaviour, including whether they begin to drink and how much. An adolescent who expects drinking to be a pleasurable experience is more likely to drink than one whodoes not. An important area of alcohol research is focusing on how expectancy influences drinking patterns from childhood through adolescence and into young adulthood. Beliefs about alcohol are established very early in life, even before the child begins elementary school. Before age 9, children generally view alcohol negatively and see drinking as bad, with adverse effects. By about age 13, however, their expectancies shift, becoming more positive. As would be expected, adolescents who drink the most also place the greatest emphasis on the positive and arousing effects of alcohol.

Sensitivity and tolerance to alcohol- Differences between the adult brain and the brain of the maturing adolescent also may help to explain why many young drinkers are able to consume much larger amounts of alcohol than adults before experiencing the negative consequences of drinking, such as drowsiness, lack of co-ordination, and withdrawal/hangover effects. This unusual tolerance may help to explain the high rates of binge drinking among young adults. At the same time, adults appear to be particularly sensitive to the positive effects of drinking, such as feeling more at ease in social situations and young people may drink more than adults because of these positive social experiences.

Personality characteristics and psychiatric comorbidity- Children, who begin to drink at a very early age, often share similar personality characteristics that may make them more likely to start drinking. Young people who are disruptive, hyperactive, ad aggressive often referred to as having conduct problems or being antisocial as well as those who are depressed, withdrawn, or anxious, may be at greatest risk for alcohol problems. Other behaviour problems associated with alcohol use include rebelliousness difficulty avoiding harm or harmful situations, and a host of other traits seen in young people who act out without regard for rules or the feeling of others (i.e., distribution).

Environmental factors- Environmental Factors, such as the influence of parents and peers, also play a role in alcohol use For example, parents who drink more and who view drinking favourably may have children who drink more, and an adolescent girl with an older or adult boyfriend is more likely to use alcohol and other drugs and to engage in delinquent behaviours).

Research also shows that genetic or hereditary factors also influence alcoholism in youngsters.

Researchers are examining other environmental influences as well, such as the impact of the media. Today alcohol is widely available and aggressively promoted through television, radio, billboards, and the internet. Researchers are studying how young people react to these advertisements.

“Considering the Indian scenario specifically, what has been observed is a shift from alcohol to cannabis, which is more detrimental for the one intaking it as its effects are more alarming, causing a cognitive impairment, which is more disastrous than the one produced due to the increased intake of alcohol,” says Kolkata-based psychologist Tamalika Dasgupta.

What are the health risks?

Brain effects- Scientists currently are examining how alcohol affects the developing brain, but it’s a difficult task. Subtle changes in the brain may be difficult to detect but still have a significant impact on long term thinking and memory skills.

Liver effects- Elevated liver enzymes, indicating some degree of liver damage, have been found in some adolescents who drink alcohol. Young drinkers who are overweight or obese showed elevated liver enzymes even with only moderate levels of drinking.

Growth and endocrine effects- In both males and females, puberty is a period associated with marked hormonal changes including increase in the sex hormones, oestrogen and testosterone. These hormones, in turn, increase production of other hormones and growth factors which are vital for normal organ development. Drinking alcohol during this period of rapid growth and development (i.e., prior to or during puberty) may use the critical hormonal balance necessary for normal development of organs, muscles and bones.

Women and drinking:

Exercise, diet, hormones and stress: keeping with all the health issues facing women is a challenge. Alcohol presents yet another challenge for women (also apart from the social stigma that it bears on their character). Even in small amounts, alcohol affects women differently than men. Billions and billions of women across the globe drink in a way that threatens their health, safety and general well-being.

Heavy drinking increases a woman’s risk of becoming a victim of violence and sexual assault.

Drinking over the long term is more likely to damage a woman’s health than a man even if he has been drinking less alcohol or for a shorter length of time than the man.

The health effects of alcoholism in the case of women include liver disease, brain disease resulting in loss of mental function, reduced brain size and changes in function of brain cells.

Alcohol is also linked to the increasing risk of breast cancer in women. Apart from these it also causes cancer of the digestive tract and of the head and neck. Heart or cardiovascular diseases in women also stem from the same reason.


According to the NIAAA, intervention approaches fall into two distinctive categories:

Environmental- level interventions, which seek to reduce opportunities for under-age drinking, increase penalties for violating minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) and other alcohol-use laws, and other community tolerance for alcohol use by youth; and individual level interventions which seek to change knowledge, expectancies, attitudes, intentions, motivations, and skills so that youth are better able to resist the pro-drinking influences and opportunities that surround them. Other environmental approaches include raising the price of alcohol, enacting zero tolerance laws, stepping up enforcement of laws, school and family based prevention programmes etc.

Today, alcohol is widely available and aggressively promoted throughout society.Alcohol use continues to be regarded, by many people, as a normal part of growing up. Yet underage drinking is dangerous not only for the drinkers but also for the society, as evident by the number of alcohol involved motor vehicle crashes, homicides, suicides, and other injuries. One must realise that alcoholism, not just affects individual lives, but affects society or nation as a whole because it deteriorates the human capital at a considerable scale which is matter of grave peril and concern. The future growth and development of any nation depends on its youth or its working population, and if this the pace with which our teenagers (both girls and boys)all across the globe, are moving toward alcoholism, then, it would not be incorrect to say that “Winter is coming”.


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