Teenagers are inundated with temptation to try adult behaviors, while they are attempted to maneuver through high expectations placed on them to compete academically and in extracurricular activities. The pressure to experiment with sex, drugs and alcohol may be disguised as normal teenage behaviors in their social circles, but they may be developing a dangerous habit.
Alcohol experimentation in adolescent years can lead to many negative consequences. Some are immediate and physically harmless, but can determine the course of the teen’s future, such as conflict with parents and other authorities, jeopardizing academic achievements and disqualification from extracurricular activities. Others are immediate and dangerous, because alcohol consumption is associated with risky sexual behavior and injury.
Recently, PLoS Medicine published a review of evidence showing that initiation of alcohol consumption in late adolescence may lead to long-term alcohol problems. Reducing the number of teens consuming alcohol for the first time in their teen years is important for prevention of long-term consequences relating to drinking.
In the study lead author Jim McCambridge and colleagues from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, UK, conducted the analysis because while there was evidence that high alcohol consumption in late adolescence was associated with long-term problems, study design often prevented the evidence from showing direct causality.
McCambridge and colleagues examined 54 studies that each included at least one quantitative measure of the effects of alcohol on such factors as death, alcohol dependence, criminal offenses, mental health, education level and smoking.
The results of the analysis showed that although many of the studies suggested that there may be a link between late adolescent drinking and various physical, mental and social consequences, the evidence was not gathered in a way that causality can be determined.
Overall, the analysis did not reveal a strong connection between late-adolescent onset of drinking and long-term consequences. However, the authors concluded from the research that initiation of alcohol consumption in late adolescence appears to be a probable cause for heavier drinking that extends into adulthood.
The authors caution, however, that the cause of heavier drinking in adulthood is probably a complex causal process with many factors involved besides the age at which the individual began drinking alcohol.
While further research is necessary to understand the effects that late adolescent alcohol consumption has on later decisions about drinking, it is important to consider that those who begin drinking at a younger age expose their bodies longer to substances that increase the risk of developing major health problems, such as heart disease and several types of cancer.