Start Talking Before They Start Drinking (page 6)
You Are the Most Powerful Influence on Your Child’s Behavior
Underage drinking can have serious consequences. You can protect your children from the risks associated with drinking by maintaining open communication and expressing a clear, consistent message about alcohol. Building a close relationship with your kids will encourage them to come to you for help in making decisions that impact their health and well-being. This guide provides facts and practical advice on how to talk with your children about underage drinking. It helps you create household rules to support your values.
Society gives children mixed messages about alcohol. Make sure that your children get their information from the best resource available.
What You Need to Know
Many kids start drinking in middle school.1
- One out of every two 8th graders has tried alcohol.2
- More kids use alcohol than use tobacco or illicit drugs.3
- More children are killed by alcohol than all illegal drugs combined.4
- Children who begin drinking alcohol before the age of 15 are 5 times more likely than those who start after age 21 to develop alcohol problems.5
- The chances of becoming dependent decrease by 14% for each year of delay in the onset of alcohol use.6
Alcohol and Judgement
The teenage brain is still developing. Alcohol can impair the parts of the brain that control the following:7
- Motor coordination. This includes the ability to walk, drive and process information.
- Impulse control. Drinking lowers inhibitions and increases the chances that a person will do something that they will regret when they are sober.
- Memory. Impaired recollection and even blackouts can occur when too much alcohol has been consumed.
- Judgement and decision making capacity. Drinking may lead young people to engage in risky behaviors that can result in illness, injury, and even death.8
Alcohol use among youth is strongly correlated with
violence, risky sexual behavior, poor academic performance and other harmful behaviors.10
- Children who start drinking before age 15 are 12 times more likely to be injured while under the influence of alcohol and 10 times more likely to be in a fight after drinking, compared with those who wait until they are 21.11
- Alcohol use by teens is a strong predictor of both sexual activity and unprotected sex.12
- A survey of high school students found that 18% of females and 39% of males say it is acceptable for a boy to force sex if the girl is high or drunk.13
- Teens who use alcohol have higher rates of academic problems and poor performance than non-drinkers.14
- Among eighth-graders, higher truancy rates are associated with greater rates of alcohol use in the past month.15
Illicit Drug Use
- More than 67% of young people who start drinking before the age of 15 will try an illicit drug. Children who drink are 7.5 times more likely to use any illicit drug, more than 22 times more likely to use marijuana, and 50 times more likely to use cocaine than children who never drink.16
- When young people drink and get into a car, they tend to make poor decisions that impact their safety.17
- Traffic crashes are the number one killer of teens and over one-third of teen traffic deaths are alcohol-related.18
“What parents may not realize is that children say that parental disapproval of underage drinking is the key reason they have chosen not to drink.”
Charles Curie, SAMHSA Administrator
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
|Teen perceptions of immorality, parental disapproval, and harm to health are far more powerful deterrents to teen smoking, drinking, and drug use than legal restrictions on the purchase of cigarettes and alcohol or the illegality of using drugs like marijuana, LSD, cocaine, and heroin.19|
You have more influence over your children than you may realize. Kids spend a lot of time with friends, television, music and magazines. But they are also tuned in to you. Your words and actions impact them in many ways every day.
- Research studies indicate that children are less likely to drink when their parents are involved in their lives and when they and their parents report feeling close to each other.20
- You can influence your children’s behavior by observing the rules of a moderate drinker or by not drinking.21
- Your older children also influence their younger brothers and sisters. Older siblings’ alcohol use can influence the alcohol use of younger siblings in the family, particularly for same sex siblings.22
For adults who choose to drink, moderation is defined as no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men.23
What You Need to Say
Alcohol and Underage Drinking
Discuss your personal beliefs with your child. Sharing your values and family history around alcohol will create an environment of trust and understanding.
If You Drink
- Explain your rules for drinking responsibly and in moderation.
- Tell your children that some people should not drink alcoholic beverages at all. These include:28
- Children and adolescents.
- Individuals of any age who cannot restrict their drinking to moderate levels. This is a special concern for recovering alcoholics and people whose family members have alcohol problems.
- Women who are trying to conceive or who are pregnant.
- People who plan to drive or take part in activities that require attention or skill.
- People using prescription and over-the-counter medications.
- Be clear that you do not want your children to drink alcohol until they are 21 years old.
- When they are 21, if they decide to drink, they should do in moderation.
If You Don't Drink
- Explain your reasons for not drinking, whether they are religious, health related, or due to family history.
- Encourage your children to talk with you if they have questions about why you choose not to drink.
- Be clear that you do not want them to drink alcohol.
- Explain that when they are 21, if they should decide to drink, they should do so in moderation.
Your Family Beliefs & History Around Alcohol
If Someone in the Family Drinks Too Much or is in Recovery
If your family has a history of alcoholism, your children need to know that they are at a greater risk for problem drinking.
- Discuss what drinking responsibly means, and that some people are unable to drink alcohol at all without drinking to excess.
- Explain that alcoholism is a progressive disease that is a combination of physical addiction and mental obsession with drinking.
- Communicate the importance of abstaining from alcohol. Tell your children that they need to delay drinking for as long as possible and recommend that they not drink at all. Explain that the older they are before they take a drink, the lower the chances that they will have problems with alcohol.
- Let your children know that drinking under the legal age of 21 is a major risk for people with a family history of alcohol.
- Inform them that there are successful treatment options for people who drink and develop problems with alcohol, and that you support family members who are in recovery.
Help is Available
SAMHSA National Drug Information Treatment and Referral Hotline
800-662-HELP (4357) • dasis3.samhsa.gov
Information, support, treatment options, and referrals to local rehab centers for any drug or alcohol problem. Operates 24 hours, seven days a week.
866-951-5357 • smartrecovery.org
SMART(Self-Management And Recovery Training) helps people who choose to abstain from alcohol or addictive substances by teaching how to change self-defeating thoughts and actions.
National Youth Crisis Hotline
800-442-HOPE (4673) • 1800hithome.com Provides counseling and referrals to local drug treatment centers, shelters, and counseling services. Operates 24 hours, seven days a week.
800-344-2666 • al-anon.alateen.org
Alateen is a recovery program for young people which helps families and friends of alcoholics recover from the effects of living with a problem drinker.
National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACoA)
888-554-COAS • nacoa.org
NACoA’s mission is to advocate for all children and families affected by alcoholism and other drug dependencies.
What You Need to Do:Take Action
There are six actions you can take today to help keep your child alcohol free.
Talk Early and Often to Your Child
- Establish and maintain an open line of communication.
- Get into the habit of talking with your child every day. This will make it easier for you to have conversations about serious subjects when necessary.
- Talking with your child about his or her activities opens up an opportunity for you to share your interests and values.
- Young people are much less likely to have mental health and substance abuse problems when they have positive activities to do and when caring adults are involved in their lives.
Be a Good Role Model
- Think about what you say and how you act in front of your child. Your own actions are the most powerful indicator to your children of what is appropriate and acceptable in your family.
- Do not take part in illegal, unhealthy, or dangerous practices related to alcohol, tobacco, or drugs or your child may
believe that these practices are OK no matter what you say.
Be aware of what is going on in your home. Two out of three teens aged 13-18 said it is easy to get alcohol from their own homes without their parents knowing it.30
Teach Kids to Choose Friends Wisely
- Teach your child how to form positive relationships.
- Help your child to understand what qualities to look for in a friend.
Monitor Your Child's Activities
- Know where your children are and get acquainted with their friends.
- Limit the amount of time your children spend without an adult being present. Unsupervised children have more opportunities to experiment with risky behaviors, including the use of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs, and they may start substance abuse at earlier ages.
- Make clear, sensible rules for your child and enforce them with consistency and appropriate consequences.
- Following these rules can help protect your child’s physical safety and mental well-being, which can lower his or her risk for substance abuse problems.
Set Clear Rules About Alcohol
- Tell your children what the law is, what your household rules are, and what behavior you expect. For example, “Alcohol is for adults. Do not drink alcohol until you are 21. Our family follows the law.”
- Be sure your children understand that the rules are maintained at all times, and that the rules hold true even at other people’s houses. Follow your own rules.
- Don’t change the rules in mid-stream or add new consequences without talking to your children. Avoid unrealistic threats.
Recognize Good Behavior
- Always let your children know how pleased you are when they respect the rules of the household.
Put it into Practice
- Write out your most important family rules and post them clearly where they are seen often by everyone in the family. Then review the rules regularly with your family on your children’s birthday or at the beginning of the school year.
1, 2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Johnson, L.D., O’Malley, P.M., and Bachman, J.G. (2000), University of Michigan, Institute for Social Research, Monitoring the Future National Results on Adolescent Drug Use: Overview of Key Findings, 2000. Bethesda, MD: NIDHA, NIH, Publication No. 01-4923.
3, 4, 9. EIC and NIAAA, Spotlight on ... Underage
Drinking, No 22.
5. The NSDUH Report, 10/22/04.
6. Spear, L.P., The adolescent brain and age-related behavioral manifestations, Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 24 (2000) 417-463.
7, 24. DHHS, Too Smart to Start SmartSTATS: a Data Book, 2003.
8, 10, 11, 14, 17. Institute of Medicine National
Research Council, Reducing Underage Drinking A Collective Responsibility, 2003.
12, 13. DHHS, Underage Drinking Prevention Action Guide and Planner, 2001.
15. O’Malley PM, Johnston LD, Bachman JG. 1998. Alcohol use among adolescents. Alcohol Health & Research World 22(2):85-93.
16. Cigarettes, Alcohol, Marijuana: Gateways to Illicit Drug Use, Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, Columbia University, 1994.
18. NHTSA, Traffic Safety Facts, 2003.
19. The National Center on Addiction and Substance
Abuse at Columbia University, National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse X: Teens and Parents, August 2005.
20. Hawkins JD, Graham JW, Maguin E, et al. 1997. Exploring the effects of age of alcohol use initiation and psychosocial risk factors on subsequent alcohol misuse. Journal of Studies on Alcohol 58(3):280-290.
22. McGue M, Sharma A, Benson P. 1996. Parent and sibling influences on adolescent alcohol use and misuse: Evidence from a U.S. adoption cohort. Journal of Studies on Alcohol 57(1):8-18.
23, 29. USDA, www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/dga/dga95/box16.html
25, 26, 27. SAMHSA, Tips for Teens: The Truth About Alcohol, 2004.
28. USDA, www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/dga/dga95/alcohol.html.
30. AMA, Teen Sources of Alcohol Poll Release, August 2005.
Reprinted with the permission of the Department of Health and Human Services.
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