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Research Ties Many Developmental Dangers to Teen Drinking

Important Information for Parents Provided by School Community Intervention Program (SCIP) & Project Extra Mile

Some shocking numbers: Everyday nine teenagers die from alcohol-related causes including motor vehicle crashes, homicide, suicide, and drowning. On college campuses, 95 percent of all violent crimes involves the use of alcohol. Teenage girls who binge drink are up to 63 percent more likely to become teen mothers.

Because of these and other statistics, the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that underage drinking has become a leading public health problem in this country. And this problem may have consequences continuing far beyond adolescence.

The NIAAA recently released report includes findings from a variety of studies regarding the effects of underage alcohol use. It suggests that heavy or even moderate drinking during adolescence can impair learning and memory and even interfere with physical development. Drinking can cause:

*lowered estrogen, testosterone, growth hormones and bone density in humans.

*delayed puberty

*shorter limb lengths

*reduced bone growth

*altered reproductive system maturation

A growing body of evidence also indicates that early alcohol use may have long-term, detrimental effects on teenagers' developing brains. An incredible amount of brain development takes place during the teenage years. Alcohol affects several parts of a young person's brain, including the frontal lobes, which are critically involved in planning, decision-making, and impulse control. (Dr. Aaron M. White, Duke University Medical Center)

The average prefrontal cortex of alcoholic teens was 157 ml compared to 176 ml for non-alcoholic teens, in a Duke study by Dr. Michael De Bellis. The average volume of prefrontal white matter was 50 ml among alcoholic teens and 61 ml among non-alcoholic teens. He states, "We don't know exactly how alcohol affects brain development in adolescence; but that is a very active time for such development, especially in the areas that govern thinking, planning, and emotional regulation. The adolescent brain might be much more vulnerable than the adult brain. Adults have to drink for many years to sustain any brain damage.

Looking at teenagers in drug and alcohol treatment, Dr. White finds that they show memory impairments and other cognitive defects for at least three weeks after their last drink.

A new public service advertising campaign developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Ad Council focuses on the long-lasting health effects of underage drinking. The ads encourage parents to Start Talking Before They Start Drinking. The ads feature children predicting the future consequences of their own underage alcohol use. The ads remind parents that children who begin drinking at an early age are more likely to develop alcohol dependence and other problems.

Charles Curie, HHS Administrator, says, "We want to send a wake-up call to parents that any use of alcohol for teens involves risk, not just binge drinking or drinking and driving. Parents of children and teens must change their attitudes toward teen drinking from acceptance to abstinence and recognize the importance of talking to their children early and often about alcohol, especially before they've started drinking."

(Source: Project Extra Mile, December 2005)

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Many Developmental Dangers Associated with Teen Drinking

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