Two very interesting and important studies have been recently published related to alcohol use and the long-term impact even small amounts of regular use can have. The findings from these two reports, when combined, can go a long way to explaining some of the damaging impact that improper alcohol consumption has on a generation of young people.
The first of the studies appeared in the Journal Brain Research. In this study, rats in the adolescent stages of development were given alcohol to consume every other day. Rats, like humans, release the stress hormone cortisol when they are exposed to any stressor. If they, again like humans, are exposed to the same stressor over time, the release of cortisol is naturally reduced over time. This reduced stress response is a sign of adaptation to the stressor. The rats who were given alcohol, however, did not exhibit a diminished response to stress. Their stress reaction remained unexpectedly high for the rest of their lives. The researchers suggested that this finding might indicate that alcohol use during the teenage years, not just in rats but in humans too, may have a lifelong consequence because alcohol seems to inhibit healthy stress responses that can last a lifetime.
Another study, this one reported in the journal Health Psychology, reviewed a series of studies spanning 25 years that consisted of more than 6,000 college-aged participants. The results of this study found that alcohol intervention programs for college fraternity and sorority members had no significant effect on reducing the use or frequency of use of alcohol or long-term alcohol related problems. This study confirms that breaking the pattern of alcohol use for those in their late teens and early 20s is extremely difficult and, put simply, confirms that the rat study seems to validate the analogy to humans.
The meta-analytic study of college-aged people indicates how difficult it can be to stop using alcohol once someone has begun and the rat study shows a specific negative lifelong outcome. Both of these studies confirm the slang phrase, dry drunk, which refers to an individual who may have stopped using alcohol but continues to behave in a dysfunctional way, as if still under the effects of alcohol. A dry drunk acts with anger, resentment, anxiety, and stress. As in the rat study, removing the alcohol from your life may never remove the impact of having had alcohol at a young age – for the rest of ones’ life. And, as in the study of college age individuals stopping may be extremely difficult even if there is a desire to.
These findings may sound horribly pessimistic but alcohol misuse is a real and growing concern. If you have been to a wedding recently and watched how much alcohol is drunk by the young men particularly at the choson’s tish; if you stopped to speak to some teenagers about alcohol use and listen to their stories of how often they drink and get “buzzed”; if you watch young adolescents at a bar mitzvah trying and often succeeding in getting bottles of whiskey, you would know how serious a problem this has become. In fact, it is not simply a problem for troubled teens, or those who are off the derech. Teenage drinking has hit epidemic proportions. What is even more frightening is the long-term problems of alcohol use that these two studies highlight.
There is one other important consideration that often gets overlooked. Alcohol is a drug. It is a depressant that can linger in the body for quite some time, making the regular user feel lethargic, moody, and lazy and be dull. It is also a gateway drug that can, in some cases lead to even more dangerous addictive substances. It is not uncommon for those who use alcohol to wind up using opioids, pain pills and even heroin.
We have been hearing a great deal about suicide rates and possible underlying causes. It is absolutely true that childhood sexual abuse, abuse of any type, may be highly correlated with suicides. But, so is substance use. The factors, alcohol use, abuse and suicide, all seem to converge in a devil’s brew of destruction. It is imperative, if we are to raise a generation of healthy people that we attend to these factors carefully. Teens should be instructed in the long term consequences of alcohol use and the dangers of substances. They should not be encouraged and perhaps should even have access to alcohol restricted until their developing minds have matured. And if we see a teen in trouble we must do more than just cluck our tongue, label them as an OTD and ignore the fact that they are in need of help — help that we should offer them.