Adolescent boys with body image issues at risk of abusing alcohol and drugs

Negative health outcomes resulting from poor self-perception of body image are typically associated with adolescent girls. Adverse impacts include eating disorders, depression, low self-esteem and suicidal tendencies. However, a recent study, published in the Journal of Child & Adolescent Substance Abuse in February 2017, found that the negative outcomes are not restricted to adolescent girls alone; boys are also at risk, although not in the same proportion. Researchers at the University of Missouri (MU) discovered an association between negative body image and an increased risk of using substances such as alcohol and tobacco.

Lead author of the study, Virginia Ramseyer-Winter, a body image expert, assistant professor at MU’s School of Social Work found that boys who considered themselves too thin had a higher likelihood of smoking, possibly to maintain their body size. On the other hand, boys who perceived themselves as fat were more likely to binge-drink. These findings support past research referenced by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), which suggests that nearly 50 percent individuals with an eating disorder are also abusing drugs and/or alcohol, a rate five times higher than the general population.

Girls are more at risk of depression, eating disorders and substance abuse during adolescence. However, similar trends are now being observed in the case of adolescent boys as well. A past study from the Boston Children’s Hospital shows that nearly 18 percent of American teen boys were “extremely concerned” about their weight and physique, increasing their chances of engaging in risky behavior such as using drugs and binge-drinking. According to Alison E. Field, professor in the department of epidemiology at Boston Children’s Hospital and lead author of the study, boys’ concerns are more focused on muscularity rather than on thinness.

Unhealthy means to achieve ideal physiques

Field notes that clinicians may not be aware of male teens’ preoccupation with their weight and shape which leads to the adoption of unhealthy means to achieve desired physiques. Just as parents are concerned about their daughters’ eating disorders and obsession with weight and body image, similar concerns are warranted for their sons. Worried about muscularity and ideal physiques, boys tend to use potentially harmful supplements, growth hormones and anabolic steroids. Such boys have twice the likelihood of binge-drinking and a much higher likelihood of using drugs than their peers. Those worried about thinness have a higher likelihood of developing depressive symptoms.

Older research published in the journal Pediatrics found teens, both boys and girls, to be engaging in five muscle-enhancing behaviors: changing eating habits, exercising, using protein powders, steroids and other muscle-enhancing substances. The findings showed that the prevalence of these behaviors was significantly higher in the case of boys with more than two-thirds of boys changing their eating habits to increase muscle size or tone, and more than 90 percent exercising to become leaner or gain mass.

Encouraging healthier body image among adolescents

Adolescents who are at a higher risk of smoking or drinking alcohol, which may ultimately develop into an addiction, can benefit from more positive perceptions regarding their bodies. Teens should be encouraged to adopt a healthier lifestyle by eating nutritious food, indulging in creative pursuits and exercising regularly. Parents need to set an example by being mindful of their own attitudes towards food, body weight and shape. Children should be made aware that media portrayals of physical beauty are unrealistic and unattainable. Their use of social media should also be restricted since looking up celebrities’ pictures in perfectly shaped bodies induces negative thinking about oneself. Parents should refrain from using body-shaming language to refer to their kids since it can significantly impact their self-esteem and lead to negative self-perceptions about their body.

Use of alcohol and other addictive substances is common for most teens. The occurrence of eating disorders and other mental illnesses significantly increase the risk of co-occurring substance use disorders. It is essential to provide timely help to those suffering to avoid aggravating the problem further. White River Academy, a leading therapeutic boarding school located in Utah, provides help to teen boys aged 12 to 17 years who struggle with alcohol-related problems. It offers evidence-based treatment for alcoholism in a safe and comfortable environment. Contact our 24/7 helpline or chat online with a representative to locate the best alcohol rehab centers in Utah.

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