New evidence showing that alcohol use among youths affects this
population more strongly than previously believed has led the American
Academy of Pediatrics to urge physicians be more aggressive in
discussing substance abuse with their patients. The 2010 statement indicates that the brain's frontal lobes,
essential for functions such as emotional regulation, planning and
organization, continue to develop through adolescence and young
adulthood. At this stage, the brain is more vulnerable to the toxic and
addictive actions of alcohol and other drugs.
"We know alcohol is toxic to the brain itself. Now we also know it
interferes with the [brain's] development," said the policy's lead
author Patricia Kokotailo, MD, MPH, a member of the AAP's Committee on
"We're realizing that alcohol really has a lot of effects on young
people, and they're long-lasting ones," said Dr. Kokotailo, a professor
of pediatrics and associate dean for faculty development and faculty
affairs at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public
"You have to educate [adolescents]. Find things that are important
to them and point out that [drinking alcohol] may not be in line with
their goals for themselves," Dr. Blythe said.
The AAP also encourages doctors to screen adolescents annually for
alcohol and other drugs using surveys such as the six-question CRAFFT
screening tool. The questions focus on whether substance abuse has
caused a teen to get in trouble, whether a teen uses alone, and whether
a teen uses to boost self-esteem.
For youths who do use alcohol, the AAP suggests that doctors use
motivational interviewing, a technique that helps patients attain the
desire and confidence to make necessary behavioral changes. Patients
with problematic use of alcohol or a substance abuse disorder should be
referred for treatment.