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Teen Alcohol Use: Parents Can Make a Difference

April 5, 2016

Teen Alcohol Use

According to the most recent Monitoring the Future survey results, alcohol continues to be the substance most widely used by teens. Two out of every three students admitted to consuming more than a few sips of alcohol by the time they graduated, and one out of four had done so by 8th grade. Even more alarming, nearly half of 12th graders and one out of nine 8th graders reported they had been drunk at least once.

To put this information into perspective, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that 2.9 million adolescents ages 12-17 were current alcohol users in 2014. Of these, more than half a million had an alcohol use disorder. Sadly, for those who did not yet have an alcohol use disorder, they are likely to develop one. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has found that 15.2% of individuals who start drinking by 14 years old will eventually develop alcohol abuse or even dependence.  

Alcohol Awareness Month among Teens

April is Alcohol Awareness Month, sponsored by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. This year’s theme is, “Talk Early, Talk Often: Parents Can Make a Difference in Teen Alcohol Use.” There are a variety of ways that parents can impact the way kids not only view alcohol, but the way they will handle being faced with it in the future. Our Lead Family Therapist at Teen Treatment Center, Kari Bouldin, shared the following tips for parents. 

Talk Early, Talk Often

It can be hard to determine the appropriate age to begin talking to your child about substance use. With today’s media being saturated with drinking alcohol, adolescents are often exposed to it well before their teenage years. It is recommended to approach these conversations on a case by case basis, and take advantage of the teachable moments in everyday life. If your child is asking about alcohol or talking about it on their own, then it is definitely the right time.

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It’s important for parents to be aware of the way drinking alcohol is portrayed in the media in order to have appropriate conversations about it with their children. For example, TV shows and movies often associate alcohol with a fun lifestyle, hilarious memories and even a desirable social status. For example, if a beer commercial comes on TV, ask your son or daughter, “What do you think of that? What do you think of beer?” Using these moments to have open conversations with your children provides opportunities to share the reality of what can happen at social gatherings where heavy drinking is involved, and what can occur when someone drinks too much.

There also may be situations where your child is put face to face with someone who has become too intoxicated. Sometimes a parent’s instinct is to try and hide it, but these situations create very influential opportunities to discuss alcohol use with your child. It’s okay to let them know your feelings about the situation such as it made you uncomfortable, you were worried for that person’s well-being, etc. It’s also valuable to ask questions such as, “What did you see? How did it make you feel?” This allows you to process the situation with your child, rather than letting them do it alone.  

Whether you talk to them or not, your child will begin forming their own opinions about drinking alcohol. The goal for having these conversations early and often is so that your child will not only feel comfortable talking to you about it, but also so you can influence their opinions to be healthy and realistic. It may feel awkward at first, but the more opportunities you take advantage of, the easier it will get. 

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