It can cause greater physical harm
Even small amounts of alcohol have a negative effect on your judgement, cognitive ability, memory and reaction speeds. We’re probably all aware that alcohol damages the brain, whatever our age, but young people’s brains are even more sensitive than adults, simply because this particular organ continues developing all the way up to the age of 25 or so. Body size plays a part, too. A small body contains less fluid with which to dilute the alcohol, which means you will get drunk more quickly.
Young people’s brains haven’t finished developing, which means they’re hit substantially harder by the harmful effects of alcohol than someone who starts drinking at a later age.
Sven Wåhlin, Senior Physician, Stockholm Centre for Dependency Disorders
They are less able to weigh up consequences
Most adults can see the consequences of their drinking. Young people are less able to judge when they’ve had enough, and often get far too drunk far too quickly. It often takes no more than a few years for teenagers who drink heavily to become addicted. For adults, it usually takes longer, and it can be easier for them to spot the warning signs and stop what they’re doing.
It can damage their self-esteem
As if it weren’t enough that your body’s developing at a fast rate in your teens, it’s a delicate time for your personality, too. Your teens are when you develop your self-esteem – how you think about yourself and your sense of who you are, in other words. If you get used to doing certain 14 things a certain way – like always chatting to people, flirting and having fun with a glass or bottle in your hand – there’s a real risk that you will always need to get drunk before you have the courage to do these things. A lot of people might feel, initially at least, that the alcohol improves their self-confidence and makes things easier, but in the long run, it damages their self-esteem. It can make them avoid doing the sort of things they’d actually like to do, but for which they don’t quite have the nerve – or make them do things more for other people’s sakes than for their own.
They can end up in trouble
Alcohol and violence go hand in hand. Alcohol is involved in almost 6 out of every 10 cases of physical violence – either the person committing the violence or the person being attacked (or both) are intoxicated. The risk of all sorts of serious accidents increases, because when you’re drunk, your brain doesn’t work as well as it usually does. Accidents involving falls, burns or drowning, to mention just a few examples. But alcohol can lead to potentially serious interpersonal problems, too: teenagers have told surveys that when they were drunk, they got into fights with their friends, had sex when they didn’t really want to, or had unprotected sex.
Increased risk of road traffic accidents
The risk of an accident increases when the non-sober driver has a blood alcohol concentration of just 0.2 promille. So even if your teenager isn’t the one driving, it’s vitally important that he or she doesn’t ride with a driver who’s been drinking alcohol. 13 per cent of ninth graders state that they have done precisely that. And when it comes to mopeds, there’s another statistic that might give you pause for thought: in fatal accidents where the driver was under 18 years of age, half of all mopeds had been tuned up and three in every five moped riders killed were under the influence of alcohol. It’s really important to stress to your teenager that they should never ride with a driver who’s been drinking, and to make sure that they leave their moped at home when they’re going to a party.
Early debutants can have problems later in life
The vast majority of those who drink heavily in their teens cut down as they get older. But it’s very easy for the drinking habits you acquire as a teenager to stay with you throughout your life. And there’s also an increased risk that teenagers who drink will also try other drugs, such as tobacco or narcotics.