Of all of the substancesthat can be abused by teens and young people, alcohol can be the most difficult to talk about. It is legal for adults to consume. It is an intoxicant that most adults have used, or currently use. It is – in many ways – part of our culture. How do we help our kids understand the real risks of drinking? How do we help them make the decision not to drink?
Let’s look at alcohol through a kid’s eyes:Alcohol use is “normalized.” In this country – it is embedded in our culture – the result of this is that, among kids the perceptions of risk and disapproval are low; additionally, availability is high. 63% of 8th graders say that alcohol is easy to get.Alcohol is legal for adults who model both good and bad drinking behaviors. We are a media-driven society and youth are among the biggest consumers of media. Kids exposed to massive amounts of alcohol advertising – studies show that kids see more than 100,000 ads for alcohol by 8th grade. Think of the Super Bowl or other sporting events we gather around to watch – kids are seeing those ads, and they get the messages they deliver.
As we’ve discussed, kids test boundaries and take risks, and they frequently make bad decisions. That’s part of adolescence. Trying/experimenting with alcohol is one of the typical boundary testing behaviors adolescents engage in. Also, alcohol can exaggerate and magnify normal boundary-testing behaviors. You may think experimenting is not a big deal but alcohol often leads young people to make bad decisions in dangerous situations. Alcohol leads to bad decisions, including unsafe / unplanned sexual behavior. Even small amounts of alcohol impact adolescent decision making. There is also the risk associated with unplanned pregnancy and drinking. Teens may be drinking, and not realize they are pregnant. This poses a risk to the pregnant teen and the baby. The immediate, situational risks of alcohol are real – 5,000 young lives are ended each year as a result of underage drinking.
Drinking today carries risks that did not exist, or were less prevalent in years past.The way kids drink – by combining alcohol with prescription drugs or binge drinking – puts them at great risk, including violence and sexual assault. The dumb and dangerous things kids do when drinking can now be captured forever (and for all eyes) on social media sites such as Facebook or Youtube.
Remember that the teen brain is still growing and changing. According to the American Medical Association, damage to the brain from alcohol at this time can be long-term and irreversible. In addition, short-term or moderate drinking impairs learning and memory far more in youth than adults. Adolescents need only drink half as much to suffer the same negative effects.Research comparing adolescent drinkers and non-drinkers shows that drinkers face a host of problems: They score worse than non-users on vocabulary, general information, memory, memory retrieval and other tests; Adolescent drinkers perform worse in school, are more likely to fall behind and have an increased risk of social problems, depression, suicidal thoughts and violence; Alcohol affects the sleep cycle, resulting in impaired learning and memory as well as disrupted release of hormones necessary for growth and maturation; and Alcohol use increases risk of stroke among young drinkers
We’ve discussed special vulnerabilities generally. Looking at special vulnerabilities and alcohol, it is important to know that:Kids who start using younger are at much greater risk of developing a problem with alcohol.Kids who come from families with a history of alcohol abuse are much more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder.
So – what can we do, as parents and caring adults to protect our kids?Be clear and consistently enforcement consequences if your teen drinks. Sometimes as parents we are ambivalent about teen drinking and send this message to our kids. Well – first and foremost – don’t serve alcohol to anyone who is underage. In fact, you could be prosecuted for serving minors alcohol. Many states have social host liability laws. Under social host liability laws, adults who serve or provide alcohol to minors or persons who are obviously intoxicated can be held liable if the person who was provided alcohol is killed or injured, or kills or injures another person. The predominance of research suggests that kids who aren’t allowed to drink at home, and have higher levels of parental supervision, are much less likely to drink outside the home in high school and college. As a parent, you can set and enforce rules that will help your kids make safe & healthy decisions. Providing that support helps reduce drinking in high school and college. Students whose parents never allowed them to drink were significantly less likely to drink heavily in college
The example we set also matters. If we, as parents, choose to drink, then we have to model responsible behavior. Kids see us if we drink and drive, or if our behavior changes when we drink, or say “what a tough day … I need a drink.” We need to be conscious of our actionsFurther, we need to limit teens’ access to alcohol – both in our homes, by limiting access and monitoring how much we have, and in our communities by supporting efforts to make alcohol more difficult for teens to obtain.
And if you choose to drink, you can explain how you drink responsibly and in moderation.Your choice to drink does not give permission to your child to drink. The teen brain is different than an adult brain, and alcohol can have a much more negative impact. Teens are more likely to make bad and dangerous choices that can put their health at risk.Use teachable moments to explain why some people should not drink at all, and keep delivering the message that you don’t want them to use drugs or alcohol at all.
If you choose not to drink, you can also be a powerful role model for your child. You can explain your reasons for not drinking, whether they are religious, health related, or due to family history.You can explain the reasons why you choose not to drink, and let them know that they can come to you at any time with questions.And – be clear that you do not want them to drink.
The Drug-Free Action Alliance, based in Ohio, has developed a program to help parents called “Parents Who Host, Lose The Most: Don’t be a party to teenage drinking.”Too many parents feel alone when they tell their kids that alcohol use is unacceptable. Some parents think that they are creating a “safe place” for their kids to use alcohol. As we’ve seen from the research, this point of view is mistaken. Simply put, kids see a green light for alcohol use from you at certain times as a green light at any time. Moreover, serving alcohol to minors is illegal.As a parent, you may be on the spot, hosting a party. Your kids and their guests can have fun, but you have to make it clear that the rules in your house are no alcohol, no drugs, and no tobacco.If you are away from home or out of town, you don’t want your house to become the party house. Let your kids know that your rules apply whether you’re home or not, and set up a system to monitor their behavior.
If your kid is going to a party, call ahead. Your teen may roll their eyes (or worse), but you’re doing what it takes to keep them safe and healthy. This is where making connections with your kids’ friends’ parents comes in handy.Also – let your kid know that you will always pick them up, no matter what. Their safety matters most.
There’s a lot more to learn about underage drinking and our role in preventing it. The Partnership has identified resource partners where we can go and obtain additional information. The first is the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. NIAAA supports and promotes the best science on alcohol and health for the benefit of all Americans.To obtain publications from NIAAA, visit pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications
Four more places you can go to learn more about how you can prevent alcohol abuse by your child are:StopAlcoholAbuse.Gov, a comprehensive portal of Federal resources for information on underage drinking and ideas for combating this issue. Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol Free, a unique coalition of Governors' spouses, Federal agencies, and public and private organizations, is an initiative to prevent the use of alcohol by children ages 9 to 15. alcoholfreechildren.org
ParentsEmpowered.org is designed to prevent and reduce underage drinking in Utah by providing parents and guardians with information about the harmful effects of alcohol on the developing teen brain“Parents Who Host, Lose The Most: Don’t be a party to teenage drinking” is a public awareness campaign developed by Ohio-based Drug-Free Action Alliance drugfreeactionalliance.org/pwh
You,Your Kids & Alcohol
Alcohol in Kids’ Lives • Alcohol use is “Normalized” … – Perception of risk and social disapproval of alcohol are low; availability is high – 63% of 8th Graders say alcohol is “fairly easy” or “very easy” to get • By 8th grade 100,000 ads for alcohol • Super Bowl Beer ads ranked 3rd, 4th, and 5th favorite among middle school studentsMyths, Men, and Beer: An Analysis of Beer Commercials on Broadcast Television. AAA Foundation for TrafficSafety, 2007; Drug-Free Action Alliance, 2009; Monitoring the Future, 2008
Alcohol Risks• Teens experiment with alcohol to test boundaries• Unsafe/unplanned sexual behavior• Each year, 5,000 young people die as a result of underage drinking – 1,900 motor vehicle crashes – 1,600 homicides – 300 from suicide and other injuries National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Alcohol Alert, #26, January, 2006
Risks of Underage Drinking Today • Most underage drinking is in the form of binge drinking. • Combination of alcohol & prescription medicines are especially dangerous • 50% of college students’ sexual assaults are associated with alcohol use by perpetrator, victim, or both • Social media creates a “permanent record” of poor decisionsNational Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Harmful Interactions: Harmful Interactions: Mixing Alcohol with Medicines, 2007;Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Drinking in America: Myths, Realities, and Prevention Policy. 2005; Alcohol-RelatedSexual Assault: A Common Problem among College Students, CollegeDrinkingPrevention.gov, 2002
Teen Brains More Vulnerable to Alcohol • Alcohol can cause short and long-term harm to developing brain and bodies. • Adolescents need only drink half as much to suffer the same negative effects. • Perform worse in school. • Increased risk of social problems, depression, suicidal thoughts, and violence.American Medical Association, Harmful Consequences of Alcohol Use on the Brains ofChildren, Adolescents, and College, 2007
Special Vulnerabilities and Alcohol• Kids who start drinking before 15 are 5 times more likely to develop a problem as those who start drinking at 21• Children with family history of alcoholism are 50 to 60% more likely to develop alcohol use disorders Samhsa.family.gov; National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Alcohol Alert, #76, July, 2008
As parents…• Send a clear message to your children that underage drinking will not be allowed.• Don’t serve anyone who is underage – 34 states, including the District of Columbia, have social host liability laws in place.• Set and enforce rules to help kids make safe & healthy decisions. – Parental monitoring and supervision in high school can reduce drinking in high school and college. – College students whose parents allowed them to drink late in high school are more likely to engage in risky drinking behaviors and experience significantly more negative consequences associated with drinking. Abar, et al, in press; Arria et al 2008; MADD
As parents… • If you do drink, model responsible drinking behavior • Think about what your kids hear… – Sometimes we unintentionally send kids the message that we need alcohol to cope with problems or have a good time • Limit access to alcohol – in your home and communityArria, Kuhn, Caldeira, O’Grady, Vincent, and Wish (2008). Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy, March2008; Abar, C Abar, B., & Turrisi (in press) Addictive Behaviors.; SADD Survey
Talking … If You Drink• Be clear that you do not want your children to drink• Tell your children there is a responsible way to drink as adults• Some people should not drink alcohol at all – Family history – Children and adolescents – Personal history of substance abuse problems http://family.samhsa.gov/stop/talk.aspx
Talking … If You Don’t Drink• Tell your kids why you choose to not drink• Let your kids know they can come to you with questions• Be clear that you do not want them to drink alcohol. http://family.samhsa.gov/stop/talk.aspx
Tips… from “Parents Who Host Lose the Most, Don’t Be a Party to Teenage Drinking”• Having a party… – Set rules ahead of time such as no alcohol, drugs or tobacco. – Set a start and end time for the party. – Make sure an adult is at home during the party AND regularly checking up on the party.• When you’re away from home or out of town – Set and communicate rules to be followed in your absence. – Don’t leave your child alone -- ask someone to stay with him, have him stay with a relative/friend or have someone check-in.
Tips from “Parents Who Host Lose the Most, Don’t Be a Party to Teenage Drinking”• If your teen is attending a party – Know where your child will be. Call the parents in advance to verify the occasion and location – Indicate your expectations to your child and the parent hosting the party – If the activity seems inappropriate, express concern and keep your child home. – Assure your child that they can telephone you to be picked up whenever needed.
Resource Partner Make a Difference (NIAAA)http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications
Resource Partners Federal government StopAlcoholAbuse.Gov Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol Free alcoholfreechildren.org
Resource Partners Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and Utah Prevention ParentsEmpowered.org “Parents Who Host, Lose The Most: Don’t be a party to teenage drinking” drugfreeactionalliance.org/pwh. php