Purpose: Few studies have examined the impact of alcohol abuse on the health status of adolescents. The purpose of this investigation was to determine whether adolescents with a diagnosis of alcohol abuse differed from controls on the frequency of self-reported health problems, clinical signs and symptoms detected upon clinical examination, and liver injury test results.
Methods: Cases were ascertained from in-patient drug and alcohol treatment centers. Age- and sex-matched controls were recruited from community sources. The Health Problems Checklist (HPC) was used to measure self-reported problems; the clinical examination was performed by a physician or a physician's assistant.
Results: Alcohol-abusing adolescents reported significantly more physical symptoms than did controls as measured by the HPC. The results of the clinical examination revealed a low prevalence of overt abnormalities in both groups, however, alcohol-abusing adolescents reported a higher frequency of appetite changes, weight loss, eczema, headaches and episodes of loss of consciousness than did controls. As expected, alcohol-abusing adolescents had significantly higher levels of ALT, AST and GGTP as compared to controls.
Conclusions: The findings of this study are generalizable only to in-patient adolescent alcohol abusers. In this study, alcohol abuse was also associated frequently with psychiatric disorders, drug abuse, cigarette smoking, and low parental education. Future studies using larger sample sizes should address the importance of social environmental and behavioral variables in moderating the relationship between alcohol abuse and decreased health status in adolescents.