The Unseen Effects of Alcohol on Adolescents & Young Athletes...

Alcohol and adolescents, it’s a heated topic for discussion… And each year, approximately 5,000 young people under the age of 21 die as a result of underage drinking; this includes motor vehicle crashes, homicides, suicides and a multitude of other causes… And we’re sure you still hear regularly about professional athletes and drugs… But what about what it does physiologically & psychologically… 

Beer - The Youth Academy

Alcohol is affecting young athletes & adolescents in unforeseen ways. There is much mental and physical damage being done underneath the skin that we simply cannot see, and these are also things that we will not see the effects of until later down the track…

Firstly, young athletes and adolescents are still in developmental stages, both physically and mentally. The body and brain is still growing, puberty is occurring, and with it so do rapid changes in hormones and brain activity. It’s a very complex situation as is, and adding alcohol to the mix has been found to only make it even more complex

Hormonally, testosterone and oestrogen are increased, and alcohol intake has been suggested to upset these hormones to differing levels, affecting the development of bone, organs, and muscles

Alcohol also plays a vital role on the liver, as this is the organ that must metabolise it and rid it from the system… and elevated liver enzymes, associated with liver damage, have been found amongst those young athletes and teenagers who consume alcohol. When on my clinical dietetics placement last year, I spent the majority of my time in the gastroenterology department, and dealt with more end-stage liver disease patients than I would have liked. The majority of these patients were in due to excessive alcohol consumption/alcoholism

And then there’s alcohols effect on our brains… A vital organ that is continually sending & receiving messages and signals conducted upon nerve cells so that the body can talk to itself and in essence move and do the phenomenal things it does

Sick - The Youth Academy

And yet, when we ingest alcohol these nerve cells are acted upon, and the signals are disrupted… brought about by alcohol affecting two neurotransmitters in the body

And especially during adolescent years, there are two parts of the brain particularly susceptible to alcohol ingestion - the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex/lobe

The hippocampus is responsible for memory and learning, and studies conducted on adolescents with heavy alcohol intake show a 10% reduction in hippocampus size… studies also show that the function of the hippocampus is uniquely sensitive to alcohol at this time and that alcohol may be poisonous to the nerve cells of the hippocampus causing them to be damaged or destroyed

The prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain that changes most during adolescent & developmental years, and it is responsible for planning, judgement, decision making, impulse control and language. And much like the effects on the hippocampus, research shows heavy adolescent drinkers have smaller prefrontal cortex sizes than their counterparts who don’t consume alcohol

Beerpong - The Youth Academy

Now, there is no real definition as to what is a “heavy” consumption of alcohol, however, it is safe to say that our stance on alcohol consumption for those under the age of 18 is heavily on the zero tolerance side

Our personal thoughts and dangers are that it will become a habit and something people “turn to” in future years, much like what we’re seeing in some professional athletes today

Also, there are those dreaded hangovers… and we all know how important it is to be at your best game day…

N.B: for studies and other research conducted within this field, please see THIS article & its references

Nick Maier