The teenage years are a prime time for experimenting and asserting independence. As teens transition into adulthood, they often become tempted by adult activities. They want to follow their parents’ lead, try the activities already done by their friends and establish their own identities. Seventy percent of high school students have had at least one alcoholic beverage, and they are often with their friends when they drink. Teenagers and young adults get involved with alcohol and drugs for many reasons. Some examples include:
• Curiosity: They want to know what it feels like to get high or be drunk.
• Peer pressure: Their friends are doing it.
• Acceptance: Their parents or role models are doing it.
• Defiance: They want to rebel against societal rules.
• Risk-taking behaviors: They need to send out a call for help.
• Thrill-seeking activities: They want to experience something other than numbness.
• Boredom: They feel they have done everything else exciting.
• Independence: They want to make their own decisions.
• Pleasure: They want to feel good.
Despite new laws, zero tolerance policies and stronger community education programs, teen exposure to alcohol is still on the rise. These substances are seen at social gatherings, at sporting events and at friends’ homes. They play a role in television programs, video games and celebrity gossip magazines. Some of the most critical forms of influence, however, come from a teen’s peer group and role models. Teens that drink or do drugs can develop addictions. No one sets out wanting to become addicted or chemically dependent. Addiction is not a character flaw or the result of poor willpower. It is a true biological response that fools parts of the brain into acting abnormally.
The personal health risks of alcohol abuse cannot be stressed enough. The human body and brain are still developing throughout the teenage years. While even one beer or one joint can cause minor impairments, the most devastating consequences occur from repeat or extended usage. For instance, heavy alcohol drinking can damage the cerebellum, leading to poor coordination; reduce the size of the hippocampus, leading to memory loss; and damage the frontal cortex, leaving a cognitive deficiency throughout adulthood.