Term encompassing alcohol use, alcohol consumption, alcohol problems, problem drinking, and alcohol dependence.
The concept of alcoholism, in its most general sense, refers to a disease, or disorder, typically characterized by: (a) a prolonged period of frequent, heavy alcohol use; (b) a variety of social and/or legal problems associated with alcohol use (e.g., driving while intoxicated, impaired school/work performance); and (c) the expression of dependency symptoms (e.g., unpleasant withdrawal effects when unable to consume alcohol). Although some adolescents do indeed experience difficulties associated with their use of alcohol at levels of severity so as to be aptly characterized as alcoholic, this subgroup is small relative to the number of children and adolescents who use alcohol at significant, but less severe, levels. Furthermore, there are major differences in the rates of alcohol use across the wide age range constituting childhood and adolescence. Hence, a comprehensive consideration of the role of alcohol in childhood and adolescence necessitates distinctions of what specific features of alcohol-related behaviors are being referred to. Several different features of alcohol-related behaviors (e.g., alcohol use, alcohol problems, beliefs about alcohol) of relevance to children and adolescents are presented here.
There is considerable evidence that maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy may contribute adversely to a baby's development. Abnormalities in offspring associated with maternal alcohol consumption may include prenatal and postnatal growth retardation, neurological deficits (e.g., impaired attentional control), intellectual deficiencies, behavioral problems (e.g., impulsivity), skull or brain malformations, and facial aberrations (e.g., a thin upperlip and elongated flattened midface). These abnormalities, influenced by maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy, are referred to as fetal alcohol effects (FAEs), or fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) if a sufficient number of effects are manifested by the offspring. Rates of FAS are substantially higher among African Americans relative to Caucasians, and some Native American populations have high rates of FAS. Research studies that have followed infants with FAS and FAEs across time have indicated that many of these children continue to have cognitive difficulties (e.g., lower IQ scores, more learning problems, poorer short-term memory functioning) and behavioral problems (e.g., high impulsivity, high activity level) into childhood and adolescence.