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Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol Abuse

How are girls affected by alcohol?
What is alcohol abuse?
What is alcoholism?
What causes some people to develop alcohol problems?
What help is available?

Teens who drink alcohol give many reasons for doing it. Some may drink at parties and other social situations to help them relax and fit in. Others drink because they are curious or want to have fun, and still others use alcohol because it makes them feel grown-up. Finally, for some teens, drinking is a way to escape real-life problems and feel better about themselves.

Unfortunately, there is another side to the story. Getting drunk can lead to carelessness, causing you to get in a car accident or to injure yourself. Alcohol use can also affect how you make decisions, putting you at risk for violence or unsafe sex.

You may know adults who drink alcohol responsibly. But drinking when you're a teenager (even just once in a while) can be bad for your health because your body is still developing. That's part of the reason that underage drinking is illegal. Also, alcohol most likely affects you more than it would an adult because your body is smaller and still growing. That means drinking makes you more likely to hurt yourself or get into trouble. Abusing alcohol and other drugs makes you more likely to fail in school or have problems with serious drug use later in life. back to top

How are girls affected by alcohol?
Girls are more sensitive to alcohol than boys. Of course, this is partly due to their smaller body size. But a girl will get a higher blood level of alcohol than a boy from drinking, even when weight differences are taken into account. This may increase girls' risk of drinking problems. The death rate among female alcoholics is higher than that among males, because of a higher risk of suicide, alcohol-related accidents, and liver disease.

Some girls drink because they think it makes them more popular. What they forget is that alcohol causes bad breath, makes a person's face and stomach puffy, and causes weight gain. Even worse, alcohol robs a girl of her ability to think clearly and react the way she normally would. This makes it easier for a girl to wind up having unplanned sex. Alcohol use plays a role in one- to two-thirds of sexual assault and date rape cases among teenage girls and college students. back to top

What is alcohol abuse?
Alcohol abuse is drinking that causes significant trouble or distress in a person's life. For example, alcohol abuse can cause you to miss school, fail tests, drink while driving, get into trouble with the law, or have problems getting along with family members and friends. You may think that having these kinds of problems would make a person stop drinking, but alcohol impairs your judgment. A girl who abuses alcohol may keep on drinking, unable to see that alcohol abuse is causing serious problems.

Not all alcohol abuse is the same. Some people drink every day. Others are binge drinkers, who drink a lot at one time. For example, a girl may not drink at all during the week, but then have several drinks in a row on the weekend. Both of these patterns are alcohol abuse. back to top

What is alcoholism?
Alcoholism is a disease in which a person becomes dependent on alcohol. This means that the person needs alcohol to get through the day and may not be able to stop drinking, even if he or she wants to, without treatment. The disease includes four main symptoms:
  • craving—a strong need to drink
  • loss of control—the inability to keep drinking under control
  • tolerance—the need for increasing amounts of alcohol to feel its effects
  • withdrawal—physical symptoms, such as an upset stomach, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety, that
People who are alcoholics usually deny that drinking too much is causing their problems. If you confront a friend who you think has an alcohol problem, she will probably deny it and may even get angry. This is a sign of her problem. Alcoholism gets worse over time if it isn't treated. It can lead to early death due to things like overdose, car crashes, or suicide.

You may think that you and your friends only have a few drinks once in a while, so you're not an alcoholic. Remember this: it takes 5 to 15 years for an adult to become a full-fledged alcoholic. A teenage girl, in contrast, can become an alcoholic after just 6 to 18 months of heavy drinking because her body is still developing. back to top

What causes some people to develop alcohol problems?
There is no easy answer to this question. Some people can experiment with alcohol once and never touch it again, or drink small amounts more frequently, while some people drink too much and get out of control every time they drink. There are some things, though, that can make a teen more likely to develop a problem with alcohol and other drugs. If someone you know fits into one of these categories, they need to be especially careful with alcohol. What help is available?
A person who abuses alcohol needs help to get better. Treatment usually involves both the person abusing alcohol and his or her family. Family therapy focuses on working out problems at home that may play a role in alcohol abuse.

Several kinds of alcohol treatment programs are available. Some teach you how to handle peer pressure and feel relaxed without drinking. Others teach you how to control the desire to drink and manage angry feelings. Still others offer support from other people who are also coping with an alcohol problem.

If the problem is severe, a person may need to spend a few days in the hospital. Being in the hospital keeps a person away from alcohol and lets him or her withdraw from it in a safe setting with people around who can help.

If you think you may have a drinking problem, talk with a parent or health care provider. Ask a trusted adult to help you get the care you need. back to top

Last Modified Date: 3/22/2001
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