As a parent, you know underage drinking is bad. Every year, more studies, more articles, and more statistics are published saying this very thing. In schools all around the nation, there are education and awareness campaigns around underage drinking. Yet despite mock car crashes, alcohol effects simulators, shocking testimonials, all the data, and other resources, teens still aren’t aware what alcohol is doing to their body. These campaigns are often geared specifically towards the students, you as a parent may not be getting that information. In this article, we are going to delve into the physical effects going on inside the teenage body when alcohol is consumed.
Muscle Growth and Development
Alcohol wreaks havoc on adult fitness, so imagine what it does to a developing body’s fitness levels. Consuming alcohol interferes with muscle growth and development. Alcohol disrupts a process known as “protein synthesis” which is ultimately what helps your muscles grow back stronger. This doesn’t just apply to young athletes; everyone uses their muscles every day! Disruptions in muscle development early in life can lead to issues with fine motor control, think holding a pencil or paintbrush. Alcohol is also “empty calories,” meaning, there is literally no positive nutritional benefit from consuming alcohol. This leads to weight gain and again, muscle breakdown.
The final physical effect of alcohol on muscle growth and development is the effect on hormones. Regarding teenagers, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise that the body is going through a lot of hormonal changes. Alcohol can have significant effects on hormones in the body. It can decrease testosterone and increase cortisol, the chemical that is released when we are stressed. That combination alone is enough to drastically affect the body and its muscles.
Changes in the Brain
The brain isn’t fully developed until age 25, and more specifically the frontal lobe. The frontal lobe is important for many reasons, but one major reason is the role it plays in decision making, self-control and impulsivity. Consuming alcohol at an early age affects the frontal lobe’s development, which affects decision making into adulthood. Compromised decision-making can lead to higher chances for addiction, seeking “harder” substances, and higher risk-taking behaviors…and the effects can last a lifetime.
Other parts of the brain responsible for memory storage and learning can also be affected. These vital structures being affected during development lead to issues with sports or learning new skills. Underage alcohol use causes mental health distress, such as depression and anxiety. These structural changes in the brain do not just appear later in life but can begin showing up very quickly depending on the amount and frequency alcohol is consumed.
Have a Heart
One organ that is structurally changed from alcohol is the heart. Alcohol consumption can cause significant issues in the heart, and these issues are significantly worse in youth. Consuming alcohol as an adolescent can lead to hardening of the arteries, which is associated with heart disease and strokes. Another major issue is an increase in blood pressure, which is also associated with heart attacks and heart disease. According to Ai et al. (2020), there are negative consequences and structural changes that happen to the heart when excessive amounts of alcohol are consumed in youth, and these changes can persist even after the drinking has stopped.
The Bottom Line
The developing body is easily influenced, altered, and even damaged. The goal of this article isn’t to scare or intimidate, it is simply to educate. Growing and developing is confusing and difficult enough
, adding foreign chemicals to the muscles and organs is bound to cause problems. That’s not all… Underage drinking is also associated with liver disease, compromised immune function, endocrine disorders (think hormones), and mental disorders. There is a reason all the data says the same thing. Ultimately, parents and adults in the community have a responsibility to their kids and other youth to educate them about the real effects of underage alcohol consumption. Please check out our website for further resources on how to talk to your kids about alcohol and other substances.
Ai, L., Perez, E., Asimes, A. D., Kampaengsri, T., Heroux, M., Zlobin, A., Hiske, M. A., Chung, C. S., Pak, T. R., Kirk, J. A., Jonathan A. Kirk *Correspondence to: Jonathan A. Kirk, & Kirk, *C. to: J. A. (2020, April 22). Binge alcohol exposure in adolescence impairs normal heart growth. Journal of the American Heart Association. Retrieved April 26, 2022, from https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/JAHA.119.015611#d1e1547