If we only paid attention to ads, it might seem as though alcohol — a beer or glass of wine, a shot of fiery liquor or sophisticated cocktail — merely served as a way to bring people together and make them happy. Drink responsibly, the ads wink, without ever explaining the toll that frequent or excessive alcohol use exacts, particularly at certain stages in life. Because alcohol doesn’t just get us drunk, impair our judgment, and hurt our liver: it can have many other bad effects on our bodies — including effects on the brain.
In a recent editorial in The BMJ, a trio of scientists pointed out that there are three periods in life when the brain goes through major changes and is particularly vulnerable to the effects of alcohol. Two of those periods are at the beginning and end of life. When pregnant women drink alcohol, it can damage the developing brain of the fetus, leading to physical problems, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems. When people over the age of 65 drink alcohol, it can worsen declines in brain function that happen during aging.
The third period is adolescence. During those years of transition between childhood and adulthood, the brain grows and changes in many important ways that are crucial for that transition to be successful. When teens and young adults drink alcohol, it can interfere with that process of brain development in ways that affect the rest of their lives.
Alcohol use in teens and young adults
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), alcohol is the most commonly used substance among young people in the US. Although rates of drinking and binge drinking have been going down over recent decades, national surveys show that among youth and young adults, one in five report drinking alcohol in the past 30 days, and one in 10 report binge drinking. The 2019 Youth Risk Behavioral Survey found that more than a quarter of high school students drank alcohol in the 30 days before they took the survey, and one in seven reported binge drinking in that same time period.
That’s an awful lot of youth who could be changing their brains — and their lives — forever.
Here is what the parents of teens can and should do:
- Talk to your teens about alcohol and its effects — all of them. Make sure they have the facts.
- Have strict rules about alcohol use, and consequences if those rules are broken. Yes, it’s normal for teens to experiment, but if you condone going to parties with alcohol, binge drinking, or driving while drinking, it could literally ruin your child’s life — or end it.
- Get to know the parents of your teen’s friends, and work toward having a shared, community responsibility for keeping everyone safe.
- Set a good example. Drink responsibly, just as those ads encourage.
For more advice on talking to your teen and strategies for preventing alcohol use and abuse, visit the website of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren
Acts 4:18-31 And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
2 Chronicles 25:19 “You said, ‘Behold, you have defeated Edom.’ And your heart has become proud in boasting. Now stay at home; for why should you provoke trouble so that you, even you, would fall and Judah with you?”
1 Samuel 2:3 “Boast no more so very proudly, Do not let arrogance come out of your mouth; For the LORD is a God of knowledge, And with Him actions are weighed.
Proverbs 11:2 When pride comes, then comes dishonor, But with the humble is wisdom.
Proverbs 16:5 Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD; Assuredly, he will not be unpunished.
Micah 2:3 Therefore thus says the LORD, “Behold, I am planning against this family a calamity From which you cannot remove your necks; And you will not walk haughtily, For it will be an evil time.
Recommended contacts for prayer request and Bible study