The Link Between Addiction and Teenage Drinking
I left the UK to undergo alcohol treatment in South Africa, so it was inevitable that this would alter my perspective somewhat. However, after spending more time in this new environment, several striking realizations about the UK's negative relationship were crystal clear. After talking to numerous people from the same country and background, there was a common thread of early exposure to alcohol having long-lasting consequences. In short, I learned that teenage drinking can lead to addiction.
My Teenage Drinking Led to Addiction
Like many people who fall into addiction, I was a bit of a loner growing up. I had friends and tried to integrate with my peers, but it never clicked. And then adolescence landed like a tidal wave. I had two options: keep going down that lonely road or make changes to enjoy life more. For better or worse, I went with the latter option. Little did I know that I was unconsciously embarking on a journey that would lead to alcoholism years later.
Social awkwardness and alcohol go hand-in-hand for me. At first, I couldn't handle my booze and frequently became sick after drinking even small amounts. With a bit of practice, however, this went away.
I recall the lightbulb moment -- I didn't like being sober. This would eventually come back to bite me severely and repeatedly until I crossed that invisible line between heavy drinking and full-blown alcoholism.
Breaking the Stereotype of the Alcoholic
Unlike other alcoholics, I wasn't moving away to escape from myself -- I was under no illusions of a future with alcohol. However, I wasn't prepared for the cultural surprise that awaited me at the local Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings where I was staying.
One evening, an 18-year-old shared her story. The concept of someone that young fully accepting her status as an alcoholic was revolutionary to me. Then, slithers of previous conversations with other people flooded my mind:
"You're not a proper alcoholic."
"You're a young lad and will probably be able to have a few drinks now and again soon."
"You'll never end up like the unfortunate old men who live in . . ."
I found the stereotype of alcoholics, at least in Northern England, had an age limit, which may explain why three Northern regions are the hardest hit for addiction in the UK.1
Alcoholism Forms at Any Age -- Including in Teenagers
When I left the UK, I was 30, so it was astounding that I still fell into this false consensus of others of being too young to be a proper alcoholic. This girl of 18 made me realize I was harboring the same ideas. And that was me unconsciously leaving the door open to alcohol.
Throughout my life, the consistent pattern has been an inability to deal with life. This stunted my personal growth, allowed me to shift blame, and left me angry and bitter. I was an immature person who seemingly invited chaos to mask my rapidly dissolving mental health.
While this is my story, early alcohol exposure is far from a subjective issue.2 I don't have the answers to this problem, but it's clear to me that teenagers who drink often increase their chances of becoming addicts later in life.
Let's Start Honest Conversations about Teenage Drinking and Addiction
I will state this with confidence -- we're still avoiding the difficult questions and conversations at a societal level around alcoholism and teenage drinking. And I understand why. To many, alcohol isn't a problem. It's legal, so why rock the boat? To others, their relationship with alcohol wouldn't stand up to medical advice, but it doesn't affect their lives. Everyone beyond that I understand the most: they drink too much, and that's no one else's business.
Alcohol is a drug that enjoys a special exemption. It's a unique club where it's the only member. You're not an addict -- you're an alcoholic. You drink alcohol, but that's not actually a drug. Yet both of those statements are entirely false.
Let's begin by changing the conversation and understanding that these perceptions can lead to larger problems for teenagers who drink and their later addictions.
McCambridge, J., McAlaney, J., & Rowe, R. D. (2011). Adult Consequences of late adolescent alcohol consumption: A Systematic Review of Cohort studies. PLOS Medicine, 8(2), e1000413. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000413
Robinson, M. D., Shipton, D., Walsh, D. A., Whyte, B., & McCartney, G. (2015). Regional alcohol consumption and alcohol-related mortality in Great Britain: novel insights using retail sales data. BMC Public Health, 15(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2458-15-1
Armstrong, M. (2023, July 19). The Link Between Addiction and Teenage Drinking, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, December 8 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/debunkingaddiction/2023/7/the-link-between-addiction-and-teenage-drinking