New research is showing there are environmental factors that can lead to substance abuse and addiction later in life for children. There are factors we know about abuse or trauma. New research is showing that other environmental factors like administering anesthetics to children and adolescents may increase their chance of alcohol abuse or alcohol addiction. The abuse of alcohol early in life can have serious effects later in life.
The New Research
A study by Binghamton University, in New York State, is showing that early exposure to anesthetics may make children and adolescents more susceptible to possible alcohol addiction. Anesthetics are commonly used during surgeries and other intense healthcare procedures to induce immobility and/or unconsciousness. There are four main categories of anesthesia used during surgery and other procedures: general anesthesia, regional anesthesia, sedation, and local anesthesia. David Werner and Linda Spear, both professors of psychology, led a team examining how exposure to anesthetics could affect a person’s response to alcohol, specifically the possibility of developing issues with alcohol in adulthood. They discovered that serious drugs, like anesthesia, may be an environmental factor to add to the list. Some people are more susceptible to becoming an addict than others. There are genetic factors and other environmental factors that will play a role in possible addictions later in life. Werner said that it is important to identify possible risk factors that may contribute to an increased susceptibility to alcohol abuse.
Alcohol Abuse in Young People
The use of alcohol in children and teens has been a significant health concern in the United States for a long time. We have seen how underage drinking can affect young people later in their lives. The brain is not fully developed until the age of 25, so drinking earlier in life affects the brain in many different ways. Underage drinking continues to be the most common form of substance abuse in children and teenagers. In 2017, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism or NIH reported that in 2018 7.1 million children or teens ages 12 to 20 reported that they had had more than “just a few sips” of alcohol in the month before the survey. 7.1 million of our children and teenagers reported themselves that they had consumed a substance that can possibly affect the rest of their lives. Children and teens are more likely to binge drink compared to adults. About 1.3 million young people under the age of 20 reported binge drinking behavior on five or more days over the month prior to the survey. Other research shows that children and teens that drink are more likely to engage in risky behaviors that can potentially harm themselves or others. These risky behaviors can lead to unprotected sex or experimenting with other substances, such as cocaine or “designer drugs” like MDMA or acid. According to teen car accident statistics from the Center for Disease Control, 2650 teens between 16 and 19 were killed in motor vehicle accidents in 2011, with another 292,000 receiving emergency room treatment due to crash injuries all of which included alcohol. The effects of underage drinking reach much further than a hangover the next morning.
Children and teens do not have the capability to understand that seemingly innocent actions can change their lives forever. The ramifications of underage drinking affect more than the child or teen and their parents. The effects are felt in schools, the community, and nationwide.
The Earlier the Exposure
According to both the CDC and SAMHSA, underage alcohol abuse is a significant factor in deaths among their age group. Ranging from alcohol poisoning, drowning, suicide, and car accidents, in 2011 it was reported that over 4,300 deaths in children and teens, directly or indirectly, alcohol was involved. The seriousness of the problems in regard to underage drinking is often underplayed. The glorification of getting drunk on the weekends in high school, as an example, is extremely problematic. This only downplays how risky this behavior really is. Children and teens learn from adults. If adults do not draw clear lines or explain the danger of underage drinking they are only adding to the problem. Environmental risk factors for future alcohol abuse and addiction include offering “sips” of alcohol at holiday parties or social functions with family and friends or an older sibling buying or sharing alcohol with a younger sibling. Addictions run in families and exposing children earlier and earlier only fuels that cycle. There are genetic factors that play a role in addictions. That does not mean that anyone with an addict in the family will become an addict themselves. It is a combination of genetics and environmental factors.
There are going to be children and teens that “experiment” with drugs and alcohol. Some may become drug addicts or alcoholics and some won’t. However, if there are discussions and education, starting at home, we can combat this problem. There are needless deaths and serious injuries than we can avoid. We need continued research into potential risk factors that play roles in possible addictions.