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In the United States, there is a legal age put in place at which individuals are allowed to legally drink or purchase alcohol. The United States government has placed the legal drinking age at 21 years for all alcoholic beverages. It does not matter which state one is in, this drinking age is the same for all the 50 states in the United States. But even with these laws in place, alcohol still remains the most abused substance by many youths in the United States. Statistics show that at least eleven million teenagers are underage drinkers, with about half of them binge drinking, meaning they usually have more than five drinks in one occasion. America therefore needs to have a change in the culture and attitude towards drinking. While the abuse of other drugs has drastically reduced, underage drinking is still at large, a right of passage to many youth (Lee p10). This essay is going to explore the dangers of underage consumption of alcohol.
Before we delve into why teenagers consume alcohol. It will be better to understand why they venture into this habit. There are many reasons why teenagers drink alcohol, for instance many American homes have developed a habit of sipping some alcohol before dinner every day. Others just decide to use alcohol in the name of releasing stress, especially teenagers who have formed a habit of turning to alcohol whenever they face a confrontation or an argument. But the main cause why teenagers consume alcohol is because they do not know much about their effects. In a society where parents use alcohol almost on a daily basis, an age where many advertisements show that alcohol is a very attractive drink; teenagers therefore grow up knowing that it is cool to drink, that alcohol makes them look liker adults.
Research has found out that those young people who start drinking at an early age are five times more likely to experience alcohol related complication later on in their lives. Studies have shown that alcohol has more harmful effects on a teen's brain than it does to the brain of an adult. A person's brain usually undergoes rapid developmental changes between the ages of twelve and twenty one. This includes brain wiring which is altered to a large extent by alcohol use by teenagers; this inhibits one from becoming a mature, thoughtful, and responsible person in future.
Effects of alcohol to the brain
There are two important areas of the brain that are affected by alcohol. These are the prefrontal area and the hippocampus. The prefrontal area is the one responsible for thinking, good judgment, planning, impulse control, and decision making. This the area that experiences the most changes during an individual's adolescence. Studies have found out that alcohol consumption by adolescents can cause severe changes in this area, an area that plays a very vital role in the formation of adult personality and general behavior. It should also be noted that damage at this early age can have long term and irreversible effects. The hippocampus on the other hand, is an area that experiences the worst brain damage that is related to alcohol. It is shown that those who drink more and for longer periods usually have significantly longer and smaller hippocampi. In addition to this, short term or just moderate drinking has been found to impair learning and memory much more in young people than it does in the adults. It is also possible that those who frequently drink may not be able to ever catch up in adulthood, because alcohol prevents the growth of systems that are responsible for the storing of new information. During adolescence, one's brain is highly plastic and is therefore mostly shaped by experience. It is at this stage that the brain must make the vital neural connections, wiring itself so that an individual becomes a responsible and thoughtful adult. But alcohol, acting as a depressant, will slow down the activity of the brain, and in the process hinder its development. It is said that alcohol acts as a computer virus in one's brain in that it slows or shuts down the activity of the brain, deletes or distorts neural messages, damages neural connections, hinders the formation of mature brain wiring, and lastly, it rewires an individual's brain's pleasure reward system leading to alcohol dependence or even addiction. Alcohol also impairs motor coordination; this involves a person's ability to talk, drive, and process information. It impairs impulse control, by lowering a person's inhibitions increasing the chances of one doing something the he or she will regret later on when sober. It leads to impaired memory recollection and blackouts especially when one has consumed too much. Lastly alcohol drinking by teens impairs the capacity of judgment and decision making. This in most cases can lead the youth to engage in behaviors that are risky, one that can cause illness, injury or even death (Waller 3).
Effects of alcohol to the liver
Alcohol affects a person's liver if taken continuously and in large amounts. It leads to the famous alcohol induced liver disease (ALD), a major cause of illness and death in the U.S. The most common form oh alcohol induced liver disease is the fatty liver can be reversed with abstinence. There are more serious forms of ALD; these include alcoholic hepatitis that is characterized by liver inflammation that is persistent and cirrhosis that is characterized by a progressive scaring of the tissues of the liver. All these conditions are fatal and options for their treatment are very limited. Studies have shown that about 10 to 35 percent of those who drink heavily develop alcoholic hepatitis whereas 10 to 20 percent develop cirrhosis. It is established that cirrhosis is the seventh leading cause of deaths among the young and middle age adults in the United States of America. This causes an approximate 10,000 to 24,000 deaths each year (Stephen 1).
For one to say that he is healthy he or she must have all body organs functioning properly, these organs include the liver. Alcohol induced liver damage disturbs the body metabolism and this leads to the impairing of other body organs. The liver is responsible for the break down of most of the alcohol that individuals consume. However, there are other products that are generated during metabolism that are more toxic than alcohol. There are also some metabolic products that damage the liver cells thereby promoting inflammation and eventually impairing very important functions like the production of energy. Alcohol consumption inhibits the body's natural defenses against these products thereby lead to increased liver damage. Excessive alcohol consumption by teenagers in the US has been the major cause of liver failures and therefore death. It is also proved that those drinking excessively can be malnourished due to the empty calories obtained form alcohol, a reduced appetite, and a poor nutrient absorption in the intestines. It is confirmed that malnutrition contributes immensely to the development of liver disease (Stephen 1).
Alcohol and the heart
There are arguments that taking alcohol in moderation can prevent heart diseases. But studies show that alcohol intake especially for a long time, can lead to heart complications. First, studies show that an individual's heart rate increases during intoxication. This is even made worse if the person consumes alcohol on an empty stomach. Research also shows that long term use of alcohol can lead to the dangerous cardiac arrhythmias or irregular heart beats that can cause death due to stroke or heart attack. Heart failure in teenagers who drink is mostly caused by heavy drinking. This leads to the thinning of the muscles of the heart thereby losing the strength to contract and efficiently pump blood to other body parts. This means that there will be no circulation of body fluids causing body swellings, the lungs will also be filled with fluid leading to labored breathing and eventually into what is called alcoholic cardiomyopathy (Emanuel & John 1).
Effects of alcohol on blood
Too much use of alcohol by teenagers causes many blood conditions including many forms of anemia and other abnormalities brought about by blood clotting. Teenagers who consume large amounts of alcohol on a regular basis are susceptible to frequent bleeding and bruising. This leads to excessive loss of blood in the process. Studies also show that prolonged use of alcohol contributes a lot to the impairing of the functioning of white blood cells making the youth more prone to infection from other diseases. Another effect that alcohol has on blood is that it causes blood sludging; a situation where the red blood cells clump together making blood vessels to plug up, inhibiting the supply of oxygen to the tissues and therefore causing cell death. Due to an increased blood pressure, the capillaries will burst leading hemorrhage and sometimes death. This can also cause anemia in an individual, bone marrow sedation reducing the white and red blood cell count and weakening the bone structure. This in effects lowers the body's infection resistance and decreases its immune ability (Dunlap 1).
Effects of alcohol on the digestive system
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Too much consumption of alcohol can lead to irritation and sometimes damage to the lining of the esophagus. Teenagers who drink heavily experience severe vomiting, hemorrhage, they feel pain and difficulty swallowing, and alcohol can therefore cause cancer of the throat. Heavy drinkers also feel an irritation of the stomach lining that can cause peptic ulcers, inflammation, cancer and bleeding lesions. Blood loss will drain away the iron stores of the body leading to irritability, a lack of energy, dizziness and headache. Alcohol contains sugars that must be processed in the body. The pancreas which is responsible for this is therefore stressed because it has to produce the insulin necessary for processing the sugar in the alcohol. This exposes an individual to the risk of developing pancreatitis, a very chronic and fatal inflammation. Teenage girls who drink heavily and excessively experience irregularities in their menstrual cycle. Sugar present in alcohol also causes irritation of the lining of intestinal tract and the colon. Those who drink also experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, sweating and general loss of appetite. Alcohol also impairs the ability of the small intestines to process vitamins and other nutrients. Cases of inflammation, ulcers, and cancers are reported in many youths who drink in the United States (Dunlap 1).
The endocrine system
As stated early teenage is a stage where young people undergo major developmental changes in their lives. These changes include hormonal growth. The endocrine system is the one that controls the hormones of the body. These include the pituitary, the pineal, thyroid, and the adrenal glands, and the testes and the ovaries. Too much alcohol tranquilizes these glands leading to under production of hormones needed for the growth of a teenager's body. This under production of hormones will then lead to an increase to the susceptibility of teenagers to allergies. Sexual functioning is also affected in many ways by frequent consumption of alcohol. This is where teenagers start exhibiting different reactions to sex depending on how much alcohol is consumed. It is said that if taken in small amounts, it will lower an individual's inhibitions and in some cases make one feel sexier. If taken in large amounts, it can decrease sexual functioning especially in male teenagers. They will experience a decreased frequency of erections, a decrease in their ability to maintain erections, a decrease in the penile size during erections and an increase in the amount of time between erections. In teenage girls, excessive intake of alcohol interferes with the normal processes of sexual stimulation, and also, blocks one's orgasmic response. These effects can extend into adulthood and can cause infertility in both boys and girls (Dunlap 1).
In the United States, alcohol consumption is so regular to the extent that it has come to associated with any party held. A party is not a party if there is no booze, that is what most of the teenagers say. Teenage treatment centers have noted an increase ion alcohol related cases over the years. As it has been outlined, alcohol causes a lot of bodily harm, but this is even worse if it is on a teenager. This is because teenagers' bodies are undergoing development from young people to adults, development that involves physical and mental changes. This development can be derailed or even stopped by excessive alcohol consumption bringing with it a lot of problems along the way. A part from damaging body organs, it can also lead to premature ageing because of one starting to drink this early in life. Teenagers are supposed to keep their family's lineage going from generation to generation, but this is facing a threat because too much alcohol consumption can cause impotence in boys and loss of libido in girls as a long term effect. This causes trauma in many individuals who wish to have kids but can't just because of the effects of alcohol that affected them in their teenage. Teenagers who consume alcohol also suffer from an energy loss both physically and mentally leading to many young people losing hope in life, it makes them easily give up in their efforts, give up on pursuing their dreams at a very young age just because they can not fit in with others as the excess alcohol will have progressively weakened their system and also immunity (Brandisi 1).
This is not a problem in the United States but it is a global problem, it affects many youths in the whole world. Teens in many countries have caught by the law for causing road accidents, crushing into people and causing death because of driving under the influence of alcohol. Studies have also shown that crimes of passion committed by the youth are just a way of showing the effects of alcohol consumption at a young age. It has been discussed that alcohol can lead to loss of inhibition, leading to someone especially the youth to leak out information that is supposed to be kept undercover causing severe consequences. Alcohol also leads many young people into sexual crimes; others can even kill just because of a fit of rage. There are many cases of rape and sexual molestation among young boys and girls. It has been a common practice for young boys to use alcohol as a bait to lure unsuspecting girls into sexual acts. This in turn leads to cases of unwanted pregnancies, abortions that are sometimes dangerous and might lead to death. This can also lead into rape, or even lead to the contracting of sexually transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS because many do it under the influence of alcohol and therefore do not care about precautionary measures, they engage in sex with multiple partners or they just have un protected sex (Brandisi 1).
Alcohol addiction among the youth has also been cited as one cause of declining grades in school. Alcohol addiction is a major inhibitor to the concentration and interest of young people in their studies and other school work. Alcohols addicted victims are also more likely to abuse other drugs as an extension of their addiction. They are prone to practicing bad habits like mixing different types of drugs with alcohol, a habit that can lead to repercussions that are fatal. Research shows that most of the youth who engage in excessive alcohol consumption, develop psychiatric problems like anxiety, depression, and sometimes an antisocial personality that extends beyond the usual rebellious behavior that most teens pass through. Addiction leads to uncontrollable anger that poses a threat not just to the teenager in question, but also to his or her siblings. They will always want to be far away from him or her leading to isolation that sometimes can cause trauma. This is one cause of many of the teenagers committing suicide because they start feeling out of place even among family members. Others are driven by the influence of alcohol to commit homicides. This endangers the lives of those living with alcohol abusers.
In this paper we have seen that the main drug that is still at large and mostly abused by teenagers is alcohol. There has been, and will continue to be there, consequences that come with underage drinking. As a result many people under the age of twenty one years die every year in the United States and this tends to increase each passing day. These deaths occur from alcohol related cases that include deaths from car crashes and vehicle accidents as a result of teens driving under the influence of alcohol, other deaths are due to homicides, teenager suicides, and others from other injuries as a result of too much drinking. Research shows that many teenagers die from motor vehicle accidents and car crushes than any other cause. Alcoholism in teenagers in the United States is alarmingly high. This comes with other crimes ranging from petty stealing to murder. Teenager's alcoholism also causes major economic losses that range from damage to property, loss of productive manpower, and other consequences associated with the abuse of alcohol that are very much detrimental and therefore cost the society millions of dollars every year. In addition to these, many Americans are injured every year because of alcohol related accidents. These accidents may happen on the job, around the home or during social activities like school games, graduation ceremonies and many others. Alcohol is a depressant and therefore is a stress to one's body. Teenagers who drink also face many health risks such as brain damage, and damage to almost all body organs thereby affecting the growth of a teenager. It impairs the functioning of the nervous system, an individual's long term thinking and memory skills (underage Drinking p1).
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