Australia’s relationship with alcohol in certain groups has been gradually changing, so Girlfriend asked general practitioner Dr Jill Forer, what this could mean for young people.
Dr Jill believes that this change could be attributed to many factors, from more time spent in the family home thanks to Covid, more access to education through the internet and more emotional maturity.
“I think that young people are very savvy, and they have the capacity to educate themselves through the internet through social media, and I think the information is available to them as to what safety and damages can occur from alcohol,” says Jill.
“I think our society is more emotionally and psychologically intelligent that people are maybe using other methods to help them with their social phobias or anxieties, etc. other than using a drug which is alcohol.”
While it can be beneficial for teens to experiment to a degree, it’s important to understand the potential consequences of consuming alcohol.
“It’s known that alcohol is a carcinogen which means it's a cancer-producing product, which is a strange thing because everybody in the world at some point will have it, but not everyone will choose a cigarette,” explains Jill.
However, beyond the threat of cancer a person is more likely to experience damage to their brain.
Which is even more true for young people who are still developing their brain until about the age of 24 to 26 and as a result one’s ability to learn and function can be affected.
“For young people the brain isn’t fully developed until about the age of 24 or 26 and so alcohol consumption in early life can cause brain damage,” reveals Dr Jill. “What actually happens when people have alcohol excessively is it affects their learning, their concentration and their reasoning - they then do worse in school and because they do worse in school socially and emotionally, they start to suffer.”
Although it may feel like people who drink heavily don’t seem to have any visible brain damage, that is because it’s an ever-so-subtle change.
Dr Jill explains, “The brain damage will be very subtle, it wouldn’t be obvious to anybody else, and it may not even be obvious to the person because they have nothing to compare to. But it would affect concentrating, learning, that subtle stuff in education and personal growth.”
With all that said, there are ways to drink responsibly for teens who are curious about alcohol.
According to Dr Jill, she advises five choices teens can take to increase their safety while drinking.
“If you are going to make the choice to drink, the following things will make it safer, and they are: Have the least possible, always eat before you drink, be with a friend or a safe person, never drink an open drink, and always open your own alcohol if you’re going to drink – because spiking is a big problem.”
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