Kayla Fonseca's "Chilling Facts - Alcohol & TEEN BRAINS + Oktoberfest"

The consumption of alcohol by teenagers poses many controversial questions. Why can a person join the armed forces at 18 but must wait three years to legally drink alcohol? Why does the United States restrict alcohol when other countries do not? Why is alcohol so taboo? Is drinking at a young age really that bad for your brain?

Every year, Oktoberfest is celebrated all around the world. Beginning in Munich, Germany, Oktoberfest was a celebration first held in 1810 when Prince Ludwig, later King Ludwig I of Bavaria, married Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. Citizens were invited to fields near the city of Munich, named “Theresienwiese” after Princess Therese. The festival was first celebrated for 16-18 days in the middle of October, but has since moved to the end of September into the beginning of October due to better weather conditions. In 1910, on the 100th anniversary of Oktoberfest, about 31,700 gallons of beer were consumed. After the anniversary came both World Wars and, during that time, Oktoberfest was not celebrated. Since 1950, the festivities have begun with a 12-gun salute at noon, followed by the mayor of Bavaria tapping the first keg of Oktoberfest beer and giving the first liter to the Minister-President of Bavaria.

Today, Oktoberfest intends to remain attractive to the older crowd as well as to families by playing only folk music until 6 p.m. and setting a limit of how loud the music can be. With these restrictions, the festival was able to maintain their beer-in-tents atmosphere, rather than one of a party or rave.

Since it first began 208 years ago, Oktoberfest has grown into a global celebration with people from all over the world traveling to attend, as well as replications popping up worldwide. Smaller versions are celebrated in Brazil, Canada, Cincinnati, Hong Kong, and Australia, amongst others. In 2013, 6.4 million people attended Oktoberfest in Munich and drank 6.7 million liters of beer.

In Germany, as in many European countries, the legal drinking age for beer and wine without a parent present is 16. With a parent present, teens can begin drinking beer and wine at 14. At 18, no alcohol is off limits and no parent needs to be present. With laws so lenient and alcohol so accessible, what kind of effect does drinking at such an early age have on these teens in Germany? What kind of effect does it have on the teens in the United States who drink at the same age, just illegally?

Alcohol is a natural thing; fruits, vegetables, and grains are fermented and when it is consumed, it is absorbed into the bloodstream. This affects the brain and the spinal cord, which control nearly every function in our body. One of the most important things alcohol does is slow our nervous system down, and in turn slows down the messages that are trying to get to our brain. This can explain why when people have had too much to drink, their words begin to slur, they lose their balance and coordination, and become confused. An even larger amount of alcohol results in alcohol poisoning which, in the most serious cases, can lead to death.

Why do teenagers drink? One reason may be peer pressure. If a teen has friends who drink, they might be coerced into drinking by these friends. Another reason might be that teenagers are just curious and want to see what all the hype surrounding drinking is. Teens might also drink to feel older or because it is restricted. When a particular substance is banned, the desire for it grows. Teenagers might want to pick up a bottle because they know they are not allowed to and want to rebel.

The effects of alcohol on people of any age are tremendous, but they are even greater when the drinking starts earlier. Studies have shown that people who begin drinking alcohol before the age of 15 are more likely to be alcoholics than those who began at age 21. Some effects are external such as the impact the lack of coordination can have on sports or schoolwork, and how those under the influence of alcohol are not in their right mind and can put themselves and others in fatal situations.

The effects alcohol has on the brain, however, are oftentimes more severe. During adolescence, a teenager’s brain is growing and changing immensely. Alcohol hinders this development of the brain and can cause damage that lasts a lifetime.

Drinking at this age can cause damage to the hippocampus, the part of the brain that deals with learning and remembering. This damage is even more severe if the teen drinks to the point of blacking out.

Alcohol is becoming more accessible and attractive to teens with the different flavors and kinds that are available. The best thing a teen can do is be aware of the effects alcohol can have. From there, teenagers can make their own choice whether to drink or not.

by: Kayla Fonseca


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