Overall, the acute effects of alcohol use in adolescents are similar to those experienced by adults, except that youth experience less of the sedating effects (Silveri and Spear, 2002) and more memory impairment effects than adults (White, Ghia, Levin, and Swartzwelder, 2000), as revealed by animal studies. Thus, adolescents appear to be at even greater risk for continuing risky behaviors (such as driving drunk, riding with drunk drivers, engaging in sexual behavior, or participating in other physical activities that result in physical injury) during an episode of drinking (Bonomo et al., 2001) and incurring a blackout and forgetting the events of an alcohol-filled evening (Arria, Dohey, Mezzich, Bukstein, and Van Thiel, 1995).
Some chronic health problems that are commonly observed in adults with alcohol dependence are seldom seen in adolescents, including gastritis, pancreatitis, hepatitis, liver cirrhosis, hypertension, anemia, and malnutrition (Aarons et al., 1999; Clark, Lynch, Donovan, and Block, 2001). However, adolescents who drink heavily are at risk for identifiable health problems, with young females at a somewhat greater risk of incurring more severe physical consequences (Aarons et al., 1999). In one of the few studies of youth using both physical exams and biological measures, Clark and colleagues (2001) found adolescents with alcohol use disorders (AUD) had more problems identified on their physical exams. Oral and sleep problems in particular were linked to alcohol involvement. AUD also reported more health problems and negative affect. Furthermore, extent of alcohol use in adolescence has been linked to dysphasia and poorer physical health during adolescence and young adulthood (Hansell, White, and Vali, 1999; Aarons et al., 1999). Whether youth drink beer, wine, or distilled spirits, poorer health outcomes are expected. As early as adolescence, chronic heavy alcohol use has been shown to affect bones and the liver, and, as we detail in the following section, the brain.
Animal studies show that chronic alcohol consumption near the time of puberty in male rats leads to decreased bone volume in the limbs and the skull because of its effects on bone-forming cells, and normal bone metabolism does not generally resume after cessation of alcohol use (Wezeman et al., 1999). Late adolescent male rats given alcohol and physical exercise showed reduced bone formation rates, suggesting an increased chance of exercise-related bone injuries in young drinkers (Reed, McCarty, Evans, Turner, and Westerlind, 2002). In female adolescent rats, bone density was reduced during a period of alcohol consumption, and after cessation, bone