Teen Alcohol Poisoning: The Scary Truth
As kids transition from adolescence to becoming young adults, they begin experiencing many physical, emotional, and social changes that can feel dramatic and overwhelming. Teenagers also start to receive more independence from their parents. This combination of new stress and increased freedom can often lead to teens experimenting with alcohol.
There are many risks associated with drinking at such a young age. Research shows that the brain does not fully develop until the age of 25. Teenagers who drink, specifically those who drink heavily or binge drink, can damage their developing brains. This can lead to problems with learning and memory, impulsiveness, poor decision-making, anxiety, and depression. An adolescent addiction treatment program can help teens overcome alcohol abuse and eliminate the risk of alcohol poisoning.
Why Do Teens Start Experimenting With Alcohol?
Developmental changes like puberty will often play a role in this. Other life changes contribute to the reasons why teens begin trying alcohol. Overall inexperience with anything that could be harmful may make teens feel like there is no harm in trying. In many ways, growing up is ultimately what makes teens want to experiment with alcohol.
- Teens may view drinking alcohol as a pleasurable experience as it’s been depicted in television shows or movies. If a teen perceives it to be a fun experience, they are more likely to try it.
- Teens are also more sensitive to the positive effects of alcohol which includes feeling more relaxed during social gatherings. Also, teens have typically not experienced any negatives like hangovers and therefore may not worry about those.
- If a teen is suffering from a mental health condition or personality condition they are more likely to engage in alcohol consumption at an early age.
- Hereditary factors can also influence if a teen is likely to engage in alcohol consumption. If the teen has parents or other family members that have issues with alcohol, they will be at a higher risk for developing alcohol addiction.
- Like hereditary factors, living in a household where people are continuously drinking sets up an environment where alcohol consumption is encouraged. Or, if the teen has friends that drink they are more likely to try alcohol.
Alcohol poisoning occurs once there is so much alcohol in the bloodstream that it starts to interfere with the basic functions of the body. This includes processes like breathing, regulating heart rate, and temperature control. With the overwhelming circulation of alcohol in the body, these vital systems begin to shut down.
Alcohol poisoning can lead to many devastating effects, including:
- Permanent brain damage can impact long-term thinking and memory
- Liver damage
- Unhealthy weight gain
- Disruption in puberty, specifically the growth of the reproductive system
Alcohol poisoning is a very real and serious threat to teen health. Every year, alcohol poisoning kills thousands of people, many of them young people. Alcohol poisoning occurs when someone drinks too much alcohol in a short period of time. This can happen by drinking too much at one time or by drinking heavily for a few days. Either way, it is a dangerous and potentially deadly situation.
Alcohol Poisoning Statistics
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), alcohol poisoning kills six people every day in the United States. Of those six, four are young adults between the ages of 18 and 34. In addition, nearly half of all alcohol poisoning deaths are of people under the age of 21. These statistics make teen alcohol poisoning a very real and serious threat.
Alcohol abuse is a problem for many teens. However, over the past 20 years, alcohol use has decreased exponentially. During 2021, estimations showed that about 30% of students in the 8th, 10th, and 12th grades had used alcohol in the past year. This is a drastic difference from 1991 when the prevalence of alcohol use in those same age groups was 67%.
Alcohol abuse becomes more and more likely the younger a teen is when they are first introduced to alcohol. The younger a teen is when they are first introduced to alcohol, the more likely alcohol abuse becomes. A survey conducted in Texas from 2011 to 2015 showed that 9.5% of teens between the ages of 12 and 17 used alcohol for the first time in the past year. First-time alcohol use was more than double that of marijuana and cigarettes, making alcohol the most prevalent gateway substance.
The most common cause of alcohol poisoning is binge drinking. This happens because it takes your body time to digest alcohol, so you could have ingested a lethal dose of alcohol long before you realize it. Alcohol moves from your stomach into your intestines and then into your bloodstream. As this occurs, your blood alcohol level continues to rise, and this is what ultimately leads to alcohol poisoning.
You can also get alcohol poisoning from other forms of alcohol (isopropyl alcohol), like what’s found in rubbing alcohol or some household cleaning products. Ingesting isopropyl alcohol can be fatal by swallowing as little as eight ounces.
What Qualifies as Binge Drinking?
Binge drinking is defined as drinking five or more drinks on one occasion if you’re male. For women, binge drinking means consuming four or more beverages. Binge drinking is most common among young adults in their 20s, and typically, Caucasians and Hispanics engage in this form of alcohol abuse more than other ethnicities. In 2019, nearly 19% of the population in the United States binge drank in the past 30 days.
These statistics are also accurate in representing teen binge drinking. In 2019, only about 6.2% of African American teens reported engaging in binge drinking, whereas 17.3% of white teens did. Also interesting, 15.6% of LGBTQ teens stated they engaged in binge drinking, whereas 13.4% of heterosexual teens did.
What’s the Difference Between Tipsy and Drunk?
The word “drunk” is used to describe someone who’s impaired by alcohol. When you’re drunk, your brain is affected, and you can no longer think straight. You may slur your words, stagger when you walk and have trouble standing up. You might also throw up.
The word “tipsy” is often used to describe someone who’s had too much to drink but isn’t quite drunk yet. When you’re tipsy, you might feel a little uncoordinated or dizzy. You might also have trouble with your vision.
What are the Symptoms of Being Drunk?
Many symptoms come along with being drunk. Some of these include:
- Slurred speech
- Lack of coordination
- Increased relaxation or sleepiness
- Impaired attention
- Lowered inhibitions
If you or someone you know is displaying these symptoms, make sure they stop consuming alcohol immediately. In most cases, someone who is drunk will likely not end up with alcohol poisoning. But it is important to make sure they stop drinking so it doesn’t lead to alcohol poisoning. Make sure they are not in an environment that will lead to them driving or engaging in other risky behavior.
If the drunken symptoms displayed appear to be more severe (slurred speech that leads to incoherent speech or inability to stand up, vomiting), then it might be time to seek medical help.
Risk Factors for Teen Alcohol Poisoning
Certain things will put you at a higher risk for alcohol poisoning. They include:
- Binge drinking: as previously discussed, this is defined as 4 or more drinks for women and 5 or more drinks for men. When someone drinks this much, it can cause the blood alcohol level to rise quickly and lead to alcohol poisoning.
- Young age: Alcohol affects teens differently than it does adults. Their bodies are not used to processing alcohol the same way and they are more likely to binge drink.
- Weight: Someone who weighs less is going to be affected by alcohol more because there is a higher concentration of it in their body.
- Medical conditions: Some medical conditions might make someone more susceptible to alcohol poisoning.
- Alcohol tolerance: If someone is a heavy drinker, they might have built up a tolerance to alcohol and be able to drink more without getting drunk. However, this also means that they are more at risk for alcohol poisoning because they might not realize how much they are drinking.
- Medications: if someone is taking prescription medications or even over-the-counter medications like antihistamines, it can intensify the effects of alcohol and cause the person to get intoxicated faster.
- Food: If food is in your stomach while you’re drinking, it will slow down alcohol absorption into the body. If someone is drinking on an empty stomach alcohol absorption will occur much faster. Both situations need to be considered when drinking.
- Gender: Typically men have more body mass than women and can therefore handle larger doses of alcohol. Men also have a larger quantity of enzyme dehydrogenase. This allows them to process alcohol faster than women.
Any or a combination of these factors can lead to teen alcohol poisoning. Also, teens are typically not educated enough about alcohol and the risks involved with consumption to make smarter choices surrounding drinking, which leads to risky consumption.
The Symptoms of Teen Alcohol Poisoning Include:
- Loss of consciousness
- Slow breathing
- Pale skin
- Clammy skin
If you believe a teen is suffering from alcohol poisoning, it is important to seek medical help immediately. If they are vomiting, keep them on their side so they do not choke on their vomit. If they are unresponsive, call 911. Treatment for teen alcohol poisoning will be provided by medical professionals and will typically involve pumping the stomach, giving IV fluids, and close monitoring.
Treatment for Alcohol Abuse in Teens
The best way to prevent teen alcohol poisoning is to address any underlying issues of alcohol abuse. If your teen is drinking excessively, it is important to get them help. At Luna Recovery, we offer a comprehensive addiction treatment program that includes individual therapy, family therapy, and group therapy. We also offer educational groups and 12-step support groups. Our goal is to help your teen recover from alcohol abuse and live a happy, healthy life.
LUNA Recovery Can Help You Overcome Alcohol Abuse!
If your teen is struggling with alcohol abuse, we can help. LUNA Recovery offers comprehensive treatment to help teens understand what caused them to use alcohol and how to overcome addiction. We also offer evaluation services to determine if your teen is suffering from a mental health condition that may be contributing to their alcohol use.
Our goal is to help your teen recover from alcohol abuse and live a happy, healthy life. Contact us today to learn more about our adolescent treatment program.
Dr. Allaire received his Bachelors of Science in Biology from the University of Houston, as Valedictorian of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and his Medical Doctorate from Baylor College of Medicine, where he served as Chief Resident. He is the medical monitor for the Physician Counseling Committee of the Harris County Medical Society and the Medical Director of Serenity House Detox. Dr. Allaire specializes in medically assisted detox cases, treating patients in recovery from addiction or other mental health disorders, the medical assessment and monitoring of patients with addictive disorders, medical care related to eating disorders and the medical treatment of patients with mental health conditions.