When it comes to underage drinking, prevention is the best strategy. Educating adolescents about the dangers alcohol abuse is critical, as more than 80 percent of youth ages 10 – 18 say parents are the biggest influence in their decision to drink or not.
Adolescence can be a challenging time and unfortunately alcohol can serve as an escape or coping mechanism. Roughly 10 percent of 12-year-olds admit they’ve tried alcohol and that number jumps to 50 percent by age 15.
Why do adolescents turn to alcohol? Pre-teen and teens are undergoing a multitude of physical and emotional changes. There is an overwhelming desire to fit in, which make peer pressure a powerful influence. Other stressors can cause adolescents to drink too; family issues such as divorce or a move to a new school. Genetics can play a role too. Children of alcoholics are between 4 and 10 times more likely to become alcoholics than children without alcoholism in their family.
Equally alarming are the consequences. Yearly deaths from underage drinking total around 5,000, which include car accidents, homicides, suicides, drownings and other alcohol-related accidents. In addition, binge drinkers, which is estimated at one million high school students nationwide, are more likely to use drugs, get bad grades and indulge in other risky behaviors. In 2014, more than 1.6 million people between the ages of 12 and 20 said they had driven under the influence of alcohol.
If you suspect your child has been drinking, there are some signs that may be good indicators, especially if this behavior has become extreme:
Skipping school, poor grades and getting in trouble
Ignoring family rules
A change in the circle of friends
A lack of enthusiasm for things they once took an interest in; a sloppy appearance
Memory lapses, poor concentration, bloodshot eyes, lack of coordination, or slurred speech
So how to you talk to your kids about alcohol use? The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) offers a plethora of resources for parents as part of their “Talk. They Hear You.” campaign. They suggest conversations start as young as nine years old. As a parent, you want to establish yourself as the first source for information – not the Internet, media or peers. You also want to make clear that the behavior is unacceptable. More tips from SAMHSA can be found HERE.
Starting the conversation may be difficult but it’s important and ultimately builds a level of trust and openness between you and your child.