Special Risks For Girls

Drinking poses risks for both male and female teens, but alcohol can create unique problems for girls. Because male teens usually weigh more and have more body water than female teens, alcohol becomes more diluted in the bodies of male drinkers. Female drinkers generally have higher concentrations of alcohol in their blood than male drinkers, even when they have consumed precisely the same amount of alcohol.

Tracy finds school useless and boring. The teachers stand at the front of the classroom writing numbers or words on the blackboard, while the students whisper, pass notes, or just stare off into space. Things aren't much better at home. Her parents get home late from work, pour themselves a beer, and then either fight with each other or stare at the television. Tracy feels invisible. When she drinks, she doesn't mind feeling invisible. She can sit in the middle of the buzzing classroom and daydream about being somewhere else. She can stare at the television with her parents and imagine she is in the middle of whatever make-believe world they are watching on the screen.

Sometimes it seems to Colin that he and his friends drink because there's nothing better to do. He doesn't remember exactly when they started. They were hanging out at somebody's house the way they always did, but this time somebody had brought a six-pack of beer. After that, they almost always had alcohol when they got together. If they didn't, they were talking about ways to get it. Sometimes somebody brought a bottle of cheap wine; other times, beer. Once one of Colin's friends brought a bottle of something that made them all sick—Colin couldn't even remember what it was, but it had really made the room spin. The stuff was easy enough to get. The boys looked older than their age, and they soon figured out which stores didn't ask for ID.

Some people, like Tracy and Colin, use alcohol to escape from the pain of everyday life, to combat boredom, or to fit in with their friends. Although alcohol provides a temporary solution to these problems—it may, in fact, make you feel better while you're intoxicated—what these teens don't know is that alcohol use can create more problems than it solves. Tracy and Colin are putting themselves at risk for developing psychological problems like depression and learning difficulties.

Teenage girls who are heavy drinkers are more likely to engage in sexual intercourse and less likely to use condoms, resulting in greater risk of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease, including HIV and AIDS. Females are among the fastest-growing portion of the U.S. population to become infected with HIV, and teens are particularly at risk.

Teen girls who drink regularly should be aware that menstrual problems can result from heavy drinking— problems like increased menstrual flow, greater pain and discomfort, irregular periods, or even problems that will make it more difficult to have a baby later in life.

Daughters of alcoholics face a special risk. Studies have shown that if your parents abuse alcohol, you are more likely to become an alcoholic yourself and to marry a man who is an alcoholic.

Alcohol also plays a factor in sexual assaults and so-called "date rape." It's not enough to simply say "no"; you must be aware that if you are at a party or event where others are drinking, alcohol can lead to aggressive behavior—behavior that may threaten you or someone you care about.

CHOOSING TO SAY "NO"

Of course, it can be awkward and uncomfortable to be the only one at a party who isn't drinking. If you know that you are going to be somewhere where alcohol is being served and you don't want to drink, it can help to be prepared to say no. Think about why you don't want to drink. Imagine the scene in your head, and practice feeling confident about your choice not to drink.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has prepared some ways to say "no" to alcohol. You may find some of these helpful:

• No thanks, I don't want to get into trouble with my parents.

These teens volunteer for Connecticut Coalition to Stop Underage Drinking, which creates sting operations designed to identify those who sell liquor to minors.

• No thanks, if I drink I'll lose my privileges (the car, be grounded, etc.)

• No thanks, I've got to study later (or get up early, or pick up somebody, or . . . )

• No thanks, drinking makes me tired.

There is no "right" or "wrong" way to refuse alcohol. You can come up with your own "no thanks" or use one of the ones suggested here. You may find it helpful to get some support from a family member or friend. You can share your concerns and get some help and encouragement.

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