ARLINGTON, Va. (WUSA) -- Debbie Taylor has been in the business of treating addiction since 1972. She is now the director and senior vice-president of Phoenix Houses of the Mid-Atlantic, which provide both inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation for drugs and alcohol to both adults and minors.
"The majority of these children are drinking half a pint of vodka at one time," says Taylor.
MORE: The Damage, Where to Get Help
9NEWS NOW sat down with Taylor at the Phoenix House in Arlington; she says what's changed in recent years is the number of young people they treat who are full-blown alcoholics, and whose bodies are paying the price.
"I am seeing in treatment now kids in their 20's. 25, 26... Who have failed out of college, coming to me with beginning cirrhosis and pancreatitis. "
"I didn't see that 20 years ago in anybody under 45 years of age."
Taylor says most parents have no idea how much alcohol their children are consuming, viewing it as teenage experimentation instead of the voracious binge-drinking that has become more the norm.
She says this onslaught of alcohol changes the chemistry of the brain in its reward center. It alters the stimuli needed to make a person feel good; sometimes, forever.
"It has to do with the chemicals you are putting in the brain. And the more you put in, the less your body will produce of what should normally be there,"
Most people know alcohol abuse can eventually destroy a person's liver. But Taylor says many don't realize its damaging effects on other organs, like the heart.
"The heart tissue will be affected, causing heart arrhythmias, causing obvious blood pressure fluctuations that would not be believed," says Taylor.
Sometimes families don't realize the scope of the problem- both mental and physical- until it is too late. But Debbie Taylor says it is on all of us to stop looking the other way.
"Adolescence is the time that they will push whatever boundaries are there until they are stopped," says Taylor. "And we as a community need to say that's too far. You have gone too far."
The CDC says other health consequences of underage drinking, especially binge drinking include:
- Disruption of normal growth and sexual development
- Higher risk of suicide
- Gateway to the abuse of other drugs