Jo Waters June 27, 2017

Teenage girls under 18 who are drinking alcohol are risking long-lasting damage to their health. This is because a teenager's brain and body is still developing in a very different way to adults.

According to a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), underage drinking is significantly above average in the UK, especially for girls – with 31 per cent of 15-year-old girls reporting having been drunk at least twice.

Why are teenage girls drinking more?

Underage drinking is more common than you'd think. Every year almost 65,000 young people need treatment in hospital A and E departments because of alcohol.

The drinking culture is rising quickly amongst teenage girls and many find themselves under pressure to fit in and keep up with their friends. One 2017 study, published by the Journal of Adolescent Health, found social media contributes to peer pressure surrounding alcohol use.

It's more common to take risks during puberty, when teenagers feel strong emotions and their brain is not yet fully developed enough to assess the risks involved.

The long-term effects of alcohol on teenage girls

Being young doesn't protect teenagers from alcohol. Here are some of the effects that drinking can have on teenage girls:

• Brain development: The brain is still developing during your teenage years, and heavy drinking during this period can affect your memory and other cognitive functions. A 2017 study, published by Addiction, found adolescents who drank heavily were more likely to have less grey matter, an important brain structure that processes information in the brain used in decision-making, memory and self-control.

• Depression: Drinking alcohol is connected to an increased risk of mental health problems in teenage girls. According to a study of mental health and wellbeing, women aged 16 to 24 were three times as likely to report symptoms of anxiety and depression as men if they drank. Around one in four (25.6 per cent) women in this age group drank at hazardous levels.

• Fertility: The long-term effects of alcohol can disrupt puberty and periods, which may eventually lead to infertility. One study found women who drank alcohol during their menstrual cycle were more than 50 per cent less likely to get pregnant.

Another study found 50 percent of women who drank three to four drinks a day over three weeks had abnormal menstrual cycles and didn't ovulate (produce eggs).

• Liver disease: Alcohol-related liver damage is becoming more common in young people. Over time drinking alcohol will lead to the liver becoming fatty, inflamed and in the worst case scarred. On study found chronic liver disease has been steadily increasing amongst adolescents and young people and affected more than a quarter in this age group in the US.

• Unprotected sex: One in eight teenage girls have unsafe sex after drinking alcohol. This not only increases the likelihood of an unintended pregnancy, it also increases the risk of contracting sexual transmitted diseases.

• An increased risk of having alcohol problems later in life: Early age drinking is associated with higher likelihood of alcohol dependence as an adult.

Parental support

Parents can play an important role in preventing their teenagers from drinking alcohol. One study found teenagers are less likely to binge drink early in adulthood when parents set effective and strict alcohol-related rules, whilst also maintaining a warm and supportive family environment.

Supplements

Several supplements can support a teenage girl's health. These include:

Multivitamins provide a foundation of nutritional support for teenage girls.

Vitamin D supplements are recommended for all adults by Public Health England in autumn and winter.

Vitamin B has several important functions, including keeping the nervous system healthy.


References

1. https://www.oecd.org/unitedkingdom/sag2016-uk.pdf
2. https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/alcohol-facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/children-and-teenagers/your-child-or-teenagers-health/
3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28325545
4. https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/advice/underage-drinking/understand-why-children-drink-alcohol/
5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27865039
6. http://content.digital.nhs.uk/catalogue/PUB21748/apms-2014-full-rpt.pdf
7. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh26-4/274-281.htm
8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9797089
9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3367299
10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28194666
11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28194666
12. http://www.cph.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Guidance-on-the-consumption-of-alcohol-by-children-and-young-people.pdf
13. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11121-016-0656-1
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