Effects of Alcohol on Teens: Physical, Mental, and Emotional
Teens are hard-wired to push parental boundaries. Many believe
that sneaking an alcoholic drink with their friends is no big deal. About 10
percent of 12-year-olds say they have tried alcohol, and by age 15 the number
jumps to 50 percent! What teens and parents may not know is that the effects of alcohol on
teens are more
harmful than to adults because kids’ brains are still developing until about
How Alcohol Changes the Teenage Brain
Alcohol is a depressant and slows the function of the
central nervous system. This can be particularly dangerous for underage
drinkers due to the effects
of alcohol on the teenage brain. Teens tend to not feel the negative
effects of alcohol as much as adults. This could make teens more likely to binge
drink (four to five or more drinks at a time).
slows down brain activity, and the negative effect of alcohol lasts far longer
in a teenagers’ brain than in an adult’s — up to two weeks!
low levels of alcohol can affect the part of the teenage brain that controls
judgment, behavior, and impulse control.
who begin drinking before age 15 have a 40 percent chance their brains will be
“wired” for alcoholism.
of the most serious alcohol-related brain damage can affect learning and memory.
Tests have shown that people who start drinking alcohol as teens have problems
as adults doing simple tasks like reading a map or assembling projects. Beyond
physical changes, the effects of alcohol on teens can cause changes in their psychological
Mental and Emotional Consequences of Alcohol on Teens
Teens who experiment with alcohol may drink to hide their anxiety
about something difficult that’s going on in their lives. But regular drinking can
be a slippery slope. While alcohol can reduce anxiety temporarily, it can also increase
anxiety within just a few hours of consumption. This includes even moderate
amounts of alcohol, and the effects on anxiety can last into the following day.
Teens who use alcohol are at a higher risk of
developing mental health problems such as depression, suicide, and psychosis as
Among 12- to 17-year-olds who were current
drinkers, 31 percent exhibited extreme levels of psychological distress, and 39
percent exhibited serious behavioral problems.
Teens who drink are more likely to have poor
impulse control, which could lead to risky sexual behavior or episodes of
The effects of teenage drinking on the body can also lead to
other forms of substance abuse. Underage drinkers are 22 times more likely to
use marijuana and 50 times more likely to use cocaine.
How to Spot the Signs of Teen Alcohol Misuse
Teen drinking is a serious issue because the teenage years
mark a critical period in the brain’s development. Damage that occurs during
this period may be permanent.
Warning Signs that Your Child May be Using Alcohol:
Drop in grades or uncharacteristic problems in
Changes in mood, like irritability, depression,
Change in friend group
Certain behaviors are normal parts of growing up, but parents
need to trust their instincts and stay informed about the effects of alcohol on
teens. Sign up today for the Talk It Out NC newsletter and receive the latest tools
and research to keep kids safe.
If you think your teen is using alcohol, start with avoiding
blame and talking with or providing help for your child. If you need additional
help, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Behavioral Health Treatment Services
Locator is an interactive tool that lets you quickly locate substance abuse
treatment providers in your local community.