The Psychological Effect of Alcohol on Teenagers

Teenagers tend to have a myriad of misconceptions about alcohol. Most teenagers classify alcohol as a stimulant. However, alcohol is a powerful tranquilizer that significantly affects the central nervous system. Alcohol presents a plethora of physical and psychological effects. One can identify these effects as either short term or long term depending on symptoms and the duration over which they last. Physical effects include loss of balance, coordination, speech and vision depending on the level of alcohol in an individual's blood. Extremely high levels of blood alcohol can impair the brain, causing unconsciousness or even death. Teenagers are more susceptible to effects of alcohol because their organs are young. Apart from physical effects, alcohol has staggering psychological effects on teenagers.

Depression is one of the key psychological effects of alcohol on teenagers. Feelings of sadness, worthlessness, lack of ambition, despair and fatigue are the most common symptoms of depression in alcoholic teenagers. Depression arising from alcohol is a result of the depressant's effect on the central nervous system of the teenager. As a depressant, a significant amount of alcohol in the blood lowers the level of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is the hormone that produces emotions of satisfaction and happiness in the human system. As a teenager continues to take alcohol, their serotonin levels continue to decrease, leading to an increase in depression. Although many teenagers take alcohol to numb their feelings when they are stressed, they unknowingly increase their depression. Depression has a link to complex mental illnesses and it may even lead to suicide.

Alcohol also tends to cause anxiety in teenagers. Anxiety has an inextricable link to depression. Similar to other depressants, alcohol causes fatigue and irritation in teenage drinkers. The hangover effect that lingers in the body of a teenager several hours after taking alcohol tends to increase agitation and induce perceived feelings of body illness. Excessive consumption of alcohol among teenagers tends to increase the pulse rate and blood pressure, often leading to immense anxiety and panic attacks.

Some of the psychological effects of alcohol in teenagers are a result of physical aspects such as interferences in brain functions. In the long term, heavy drinking interferes significantly with the cognitive functions of the human brain. The brain of a teenager is more susceptible to damage by alcohol because the brain cells are still in the process of growth, development and maturation. In teenagers, alcohol lowers the brain's ability to grasp new skills, learn new information and remember things that they learnt in the past. This puts their performance in education at risk. Alcohol has the potential to kill brain cells which are among the cells of a human being that do not regenerate. The more brain cells an individual loses, the lower their cognitive ability. Teens that drink excessive amounts of alcohol perform poorly in schools and have higher dropout rate than their counterparts who do not drink. Studies show that vocabulary, visual, and memory tests tend to be more difficult for teens that binge drink than their non-drinking peers.

Yet another severe psychological effect that alcohol inflicts on alcoholic teenagers is the Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Consistent, long term, heavy drinking tends to develop this severe brain disorder in teenagers. The syndrome presents in two phases: encephalopathy and psychosis. This syndrome manifests in an individual's disorientation, poor cognitive ability, loss of memory, confusion, and extreme difficulty in learning new skills (Durand & Barlow, 2006). This disorder can proceed to cause physical effects such as poor coordination and problems in muscle movements. Administration of thiamine is the sole treatment for this syndrome and if left untreated, it easily causes a coma or even death.

All psychological functions of a human being rely on the functionality of the brain. Brain interference or damage is the root of all psychological problems. Excessive drinking of alcohol disrupts brain activity, thereby causing the psychological effects discussed above, and a myriad of many others. It is vital to acknowledge that the cellular, neurochemical, synaptic and structural organization of the teenage brain makes it more susceptible to disruption resulting from binge drinking than the adult brain. Excessive consumption of alcohol in teenagers, results in brain damages and health complications that may extend into their adulthood (Alters & Schiff, 2011).

Alcohol has proved to cause a plethora of behavioral problems in teenagers and young drinkers. Teen drinkers tend to have numerous social problems, violence, depression and suicidal thoughts. According to SAMHSA, an agency that focuses on substance abuse and mental health in the United States, 39% of teens that binge drink exhibit deviant behavior and 30% of them are under exceedingly high levels of psychological distress (Clinard & Meier, 2009). Hyperactivity, lack of attention and aggressiveness are among the common characteristics and behavioral patterns of teen drinkers. These behavioral anomalies arise from abnormalities that alcohol causes in the frontal limbic system of the teen drinker.

In teenagers, alcoholism may cause blunted emotional reactivity and impair psychological functions of the frontal limbic system of the brain. This scenario manifests in the teen's impulsive, aggressive behavior, and participation in activities that defy societal norms such as criminal activities and abuse of other drugs. These activities are a result of a disruption of emotional reactivity that appears in the form of poor self control, poor behavioral regulation and impaired decision making. Poor decision making is the most significance cause of prevalence to peer pressure and subsequent drug and substance abuse in teenagers. Eventually, alcohol becomes a gateway drug and teenagers are likely to use other drugs such as cocaine, heroin, marijuana and tobacco (Durand & Barlow, 2006).

Alcohol is a substance that is highly addictive and teen drinkers are not an exception. Studies have shown that the younger an individual is at the onset of their ordeals with alcohol, the more likely they are to develop a psychological dependence on it. Individuals that begin taking alcohol before the age of 16 are five times more likely to develop dependency on alcohol and become addicts, than those who begin drinking at a later stage in life. Addiction is a dangerous psychological effect that creates an avenue for more severe psychological and physical effects in a teen drinker's life. Numerous severe mental disorders that affect alcoholic adults have their onset during adolescence or childhood. The effect of alcohol in neurodevelopmental aspects of the adolescent brain puts teenagers at an immense risk of schizophrenia, bipolar spectrum disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder among many other severe brain disorders (Ries et al., 2009).

In summary, it is evident that the psychological effects of alcohol on teenagers can be as severe as physical effects. There is an inextricable link between physical and psychological effects of alcohol on teenagers. Teenagers are more vulnerable than adults to adverse effects of alcoholism because their bodies are still developing. Alcohol may cause depression, anxiety, memory loss, reduced cognitive ability, an increase in antisocial behavior, addiction, impaired decision making and a desire for other drugs, and brain damage.

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