April is Alcohol Awareness Month

This April marks the 35th “Alcohol Awareness Month: For the Health of It – Early Education on Alcoholism and Addiction” as the theme for 2021.

According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), 261 deaths occur daily in the United States due to excessive alcohol use.  Binge drinking is the most common form of excessive drinking, defined as consuming four or more drinks on a single occasion for women, and five or more drinks for men.  Heavy drinking is defined as consuming eight or more drinks per week for women and fifteen or more for men.  Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include unconsciousness, abnormally slow breathing, and cold, clammy skin.

Young people who begin to drink before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who abstain until age 21.  This is partly due to the fact that the brain is not fully developed until age 25.  Underage drinking interferes with the functioning of the brain, including the hippocampus, which is responsible for forming and storing new memories.  The corpus callosum, which is a cable of nerves that connects the two hemispheres of the brain, is involved with creativity and problem solving and changes significantly during adolescence.   A lower dosage of alcohol will damage a young brain compared to a fully mature brain, and young brains are damaged more quickly.  Alcohol exposure during adolescence is linked with a reduced ability to learn, compared to non-exposure until adulthood, and at both two and four-year colleges, the heaviest drinkers attain the lowest grades. 

The earlier the brain is “turned on” by a substance, the more difficult it is to “turn it off”, as the brain seeks to repeat the pleasurable effects of the substance.  Drinking alcohol is also associated with the leading causes of death among young people, including car crashes, murder, and suicide.

Unfortunately, many young people use alcohol and marijuana simultaneously.  Information obtained in the last decade has indicated that the combination may cause individuals to overuse both substances, which can result in death.  A side effect of smoking marijuana, called “greening out,” is more likely to occur if a person drinks alcohol before smoking.  The affected individual may go pale and sweaty, feel dizzy with “the spins”, experience nausea, begin to vomit, and desire to lie down.  If a person smokes before drinking, it becomes easier to drink excessively and risk death by alcohol poisoning.

The body typically recognizes alcohol as a poison when it has consumed it to excess, and the response is to vomit.  According to Northeastern University, marijuana has an antiemetic effect, which means that vomiting becomes more difficult or is prevented.  This can result in the body not being able to rid itself of dangerous toxins, or a person choking on his/her vomit.

The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain where judgement is found and is the last part of the brain to develop, as the brain develops from the back of the head to the front.  Judgement is also the first part of the brain to be affected by alcohol, which is why decision-making is altered by even one drink.  As a depressant, alcohol slows down the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), and the THC in marijuana is absorbed into the blood faster with the presence of alcohol.  The magnified effects may cause panic, paranoia, anxiety, and terror that may result in flawed or even fatal choices.                 

According to evidence documented by SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana), rates of alcohol sales continue to rise in states that have legalized recreational marijuana.  The solution to keeping our youth safe from substance use it to talk early and often.  Research has shown that kids are 50% less likely to experiment with alcohol if they learn about the dangers of underage drinking from their parents.

Visit Talk2Prevent Parent Toolkit for conversation starters and go to Smart Approaches to Marijuana for a wealth of information on marijuana facts.

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