Alcohol and young people

Alcohol and young people

What is alcohol?

Alcohol is a depressant (a drug which reduces functional activity of an organ) which acts by depressing some of the functions of the brain. In low doses it can cause us to become less inhibited and less anxious. Consuming moderate amounts of alcohol can make us drowsy and uncoordinated, and can slow our reflexes. In large amounts alcohol can cause us to become sedated, slow our breathing and even kill us.

The consumption of alcohol is considered socially appropriate in Irish society and this is the drug most frequently consumed by young people. This does not usually present a problem to society until teenagers become rowdy or appear in large numbers, as in celebrations after the Junior Certificate. The law states that alcohol can not be sold to anyone under 18, yet this is widely ignored.

What are the effects of alcohol?

The effects of alcohol on young people are similar to those in older age groups, with the added problem of increased at-risk behaviour that accompanies the taking of a disinhibiting agent. Sexual activity can increase, often without contraception and there is an increase in the rate of accidents. Many third-level students report binge drinking, something that is very common on college campuses. Heavy alcohol use in young people is associated with:

  • Impaired academic performance.
  • Unplanned and unsafe sexual activity.
  • Sexual assaults.
  • Arrests for driving while intoxicated.
  • Unintentional injuries.

How prevalent is the consumption of alcohol among adolescents?

One in eight post primary pupils report ever having had an alcoholic drink. A survey of Dublin school children age 13-17 years reports that 38% had been drunk at least once. In another study, conducted through St John of Gods Hospital, it was found that 83% of the 1,000 14-17 year olds surveyed had used alcohol. A consumer spending survey reports that young Irish people spend almost a quarter of their spending money on alcohol. The average age that children who drink regularly start drinking at is 12.

What are signs of alcohol abuse?

A marker of frequent or heavy binge drinkers in adolescents is reported amnesia of events and injuries, sometimes trivial, that they can’t remember sustaining. In young men this is often dismissed as an acceptable part of a good night out. Admission to an emergency department for treatment following alcohol ingestion should alert parents that the adolescent has an alcohol problem.

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