Hey middle schoolers!
The first reason you should stay away from alcohol is the many effects it can have on your health. Alcohol isn’t typically seen as a drug, but it is, and just as dangerous as any addictive drug. As a teenager, your brain is still in the process of developing. The prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus are the most affected areas of your brain when you engage in underage drinking. The prefrontal cortex, which is behind your eyes, controls decision making. Young people, with less developed prefrontal cortexes, are more likely to take part in dangerous or risky things that they might regret. Add alcohol into the mix, and that is a recipe for disaster. The hippocampus, which controls your ability to learn and remember things, is also affected by alcohol. “In fact, studies show that early drinking translates to poor performance on tests of memory, attention, and spatial skills. Some experts believe that a person who drinks excessively during adolescence will have less gray matter [the parts of the brain involved in thoughts and emotions] in his or her hippocampus and a smaller amygdala, which is a structure located near the hippocampus that controls fear responses, hormone secretion, and the formation of emotional memories.” (brainandlife.org) Drinking alcohol can also affect your mental health, putting you at risk to be more depressed, irritable, and anxious. The younger you start drinking, the more likely you are to become an alcoholic in your later life because you may be using alcohol instead of healthy coping mechanisms to deal with life’s problems. Alcohol will not only affect your brain, but also your body. Alcohol can destroy just about every organ in your body, from your liver, stomach, throat, kidneys, eyes, and more. Drinking and driving can have deadly consequences. Car accidents are the number 1 killer of young people, according to the CDC.(CDC) It can also put you in dangerous situations that could end up with someone getting hurt, sexually assaulted, or dying. Drinking at this age is just not worth it.
Another reason you should not drink alcohol is the effects it can have on your school and work life. As mentioned previously, the still developing parts of the brain that control memory and learning are affected by alcohol. A student who drinks often might experience a drop in grades, poor attendance, and behavior issues in school. According to the National Institutes of Health, “Several studies have reported that alcohol use during adolescence affects educational attainment by decreasing the number of years of schooling and the likelihood of completing school.” (NIH) Doing well in school is important for building a strong future, so it is crucial to be sober while in these important years of your life. Also, your work life can be negatively affected by alcohol use. Many teens have jobs, and if you show up to work drunk, you are likely to get fired or in legal trouble. If you drive there yourself, you can get a DUI, which will impact your ability to get jobs in the future, or you put your own and other peoples’ lives in danger. To be the best student and employee you can be, stay away from alcohol.
One more reason you shouldn’t drink alcohol is the possibility of addiction and how an addicted person’s behavior destroys the relationships around them. Because of young people’s still developing brains, it is easy to drink more and more alcohol once you start. “A deficit of dopamine causes the parts of the adolescent brain that are tied to emotions to crave immediate rewards. But because the prefrontal cortex, which helps control such impulses, is not fully developed, it may be more difficult for teenagers to resist a chance for pleasure, experts say. And sensitivity to dopamine encourages teens to reach for more booze because alcohol floods the brain's reward circuits with the chemical.” (brainandlife.org) Repeatedly drinking large amounts increases your chance of becoming addicted. As a young person, it is important to start forming good coping habits you can use any time you need it for the rest of your life. If you start abusing substances early to cope, you are much more likely to become an alcoholic at some point during your life. People who are addicted to substances often do things that push their friends and loved ones away. Here is a testimony from a person suffering from alcoholism: “I was really unhappy and just drank to escape my life. I went out less and less, so I started losing friends. The more lonely I got, the more I drank. I was violent and out of control. I never knew what I was doing. I was ripping my family apart. Kicked out of my home at age sixteen, I was homeless and started begging for money to buy drinks. After years of abuse, doctors told me there was irreparable harm to my health.” (drugfreeworld.org) As you can see, alcohol has negative effects on a person's behavior, which can hurt and push away loved ones.
There are several ways to stay away from alcohol. One of the biggest things is to choose to surround yourself with people who truly want the best for you. The people around you have a huge amount of influence on the paths you choose to take in your life, and you can control that. Also, if you are in a situation where you are offered alcohol or a drug, do whatever you need to do to say no. If someone pushes after you have already said no, it is perfectly okay to white lie to people in order to keep yourself safe. You can say, “No, last time it made me really sick.” or “I have to drive home.” Also, you could make an agreement with your parents where you can blame them if you are uncomfortable and want to leave. “Oh, my mom is calling, I have to go home.” or “My dad wants to be home in a little while, I can’t drink.” Drinking alcohol isn’t the “cool” thing to do. At this age, it is irresponsible and dangerous. Your brain and body have so much developing left to do. Wait until you are 21 or older to drink, in moderation. You aren’t missing out on anything, I promise. I hope you found this letter to be helpful, and please be careful out there!
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