It's that time of year when matric results are announced, and depending on the outcome, teens are either thrilled and want to celebrate, or are depressed about their results.
Since teens are transitioning from high school to adulthood, many are at the legal drinking age of 18, which allows them to purchase and consume alcohol.
Research shows that young adolescents who are exposed to alcohol and other associated substances risk long-term mental and physical harm.
“During this time, we need to make sure that kids are exposed to coping strategies rather than excessive alcohol consumption,” says Johan Lombaard, hospital manager at Life Brackenview.
This is particularly so, when you take into account that by the time they are 18, more than 50% of South African youths claim to have tasted alcohol. There are myriad reasons why teenagers might turn to alcohol, ranging from simple curiosity and societal expectations, to their upbringing, drinking propensity, and peer pressure.
Lombaard reiterates that teenagers and parents alike must be aware of the risks that excessive alcohol drinking poses to their physical and mental health, even if we can't always stop them from consuming alcohol before they are old enough.
They run the risk of developing alcohol dependence later in life.
It is also crucial to keep in mind that while one or two drinks may not be a serious cause for alarm under some circumstances such as a safe environment, it may be too much to drive a vehicle. The real danger comes when a couple of drinks are no longer enough, a few nights of partying turn into drinking alone, an uncontrollable desire for alcohol, or aggressive behaviour.
The physical impact of alcohol
The body of an adolescent is still developing. When a teen overindulges in alcohol, the body needs the energy to repair itself from the toxins and dehydration – energy that would otherwise be deployed for growth.
If this overindulgence occurs regularly, over a long period, it can severely and irreparably damage the body – resulting in serious, long-term health conditions like jaundice, oedema, as well as the increased risk of heart attacks, strokes and organ failure, Lombaard cautions.
He adds: “The physical effects of alcohol may seem moderate at the time of use, but continued exposure can result in a heavy load of disease, alcoholism, and even harm to others.”
The mental impact of alcohol
Teenagers' minds constantly change and evolve as they shift from one stage of life to the next. Some people may experience depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem during this transitional period.
This is particularly something to watch out for in teens who feel they may have underperformed in their matric results and could feel uncertain about their prospects.
Even while these feelings are frequently experienced and usually pass quickly, they can cause issues if a teen is unable to identify them or manage them. Because of this, they may use mood-altering drugs or alcohol to get away from their problems.
Help is available if you or someone you know is struggling with alcoholism or drinking control. Lombaard suggests getting qualified assistance from organizations with specialized treatment plans. specifically created to assist individuals battling substance abuse and mental health issues in overcoming their health obstacles and embracing a better, more rewarding existence.
“Our multidisciplinary teams of psychiatrists, psychologists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, social workers, counsellors, and nurses offer holistic treatments that meet patients’ individual needs and address the root cause of their issues,” he says.
“Enjoying one drink doesn’t mean that you’re on track to becoming an alcoholic. However, if you find that one drink quickly turns into a binge, then it might be time to consider seeking professional help.”
Another useful way to determine if your relationship with alcohol is unhealthy is to ask yourself if you’re actively trying to keep your drinking a secret. If it’s something you’re trying to hide, that could be a sign that it’s time to get expert advice.
It’s okay to not be okay. There is hope. There is no shame in asking for help. Let’s work together to protect our own mental and physical health, so that we can live healthier lives.