SHE Foundation - "la Caixa" Foundation
The difficult relationship adolescents have with alcohol


The health authorities are raising the alarm about an increase in alcohol consumption among adolescents between 14 and 15 years old. At this young age most secondary school children start to familiarise themselves with drink and the proof is that last year the percentage of those who began drinking alcohol at this age stood at over 80%. The figures would not be so different from other years if it was not for the fact that now young people drink more, and do so more dangerously.

This unfortunate phenomenon, which is on the increase, is known as Binge Drinking and consists of drinking a lot in a short space of time. As an example, half of 17 year olds admit to having drunk five or more drinks in the space of two hours. Among the causes of this binge drinking is its high level of acceptance among young people, the lack of understanding that they are drinking a toxic substance, and easy access to drink. This way of drinking, usually concentrated at the weekends, means an increase in the risks that drinking itself brings.

Lack of money, common among young people, leads them sometimes to drink low quality alcohol which they mix with drugs to increase its effect, creating an explosive cocktail. The main risks associated with this mixing are manifested in a lack of control and an increase in risk-taking behaviour, with the added danger of becoming addicted. If we take into account the fact that one of the main problems for people addicted to alcohol is that are not aware of it, the possibilities increase in the case of young people who only drink at weekends, because of the amount of time that elapses between drinks.

The aim of most of these young people is to ‘reach the point’ although, unfortunately, they often end up crossing the line. What is the limit when we are talking about alcohol? According to the experts, binge drinking is when men drink more than six drinks, and women more than four, in one drinking session, that is, in less than three hours. Excessive consumption happens at specific times and lack of control can result in alcohol poisoning.

Permitted alcohol levels for adolescents should be zero. The consequences for their body and brain can be very harmful and can cause serious after-effects.

However, whether they drink or not, speaking to adolescents about alcohol consumption limits can help them understand and rationalise their drinking. Consumption will depend on the individual body, whether male or female, weight, blood pressure, whether liver and heart are healthy. In addition, boys have greater blood volume in which to dilute the alcohol, because their body mass is greater than that of girls. This all explains why, after the drinking the same amount of alcohol, girls get drunk more easily. We should not forget that alcohol is a fast-acting drug which metabolises slowly. The first effects can be noticed after 10 minutes, with the maximum after 30 to 60 minutes. Traces of alcohol usually take some hours to disappear from the blood; this is done at the same pace as the liver breaks it down, in general between 10 and 15 grams of alcohol per hour. Therefore, between one and one and half hours are needed for the alcohol in a can of beer or a cocktail to disappear from the veins. And we should not forget that nobody avoids that horrible hangover the following day.

Source: Plan Nacional sobre Drogas (National Drugs Plan, Spanish Ministry of Health); El mundo salud; La cocina de la salud (Healthy Cooking, published by Planeta)

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