As April draws to a close, so does Alcohol Awareness Month which, since 1987, has been sponsored by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) to help educate the public about the dangers of alcohol abuse and addiction and encourage community action around the issue.
For the last couple of years, a key focus of NCADD’s efforts has been to highlight the dangers of underage and teenage drinking specifically – a problem that has unique risks and consequences.
Alcohol is the most widely used substance of abuse among young people in the U.S., and in 2014 5.3 million young people reported having had 5 or more drinks within a few hours at least once in a month. Research also shows that as adolescents get older, they tend to drink more. Because the devastation of alcohol abuse and addiction is felt year round, it’s important to always be aware of how alcohol might affect a child or younger loved one and, as NCADD encourages, to talk to them “early and often.” You can make a difference. The following tips and facts can help you help a young person you care about:
- Educate yourself about alcohol use and misuse.
Don’t rely on myths and misconceptions. Alcohol can be a dangerous and deadly substance when abused. And young people are exposed to a lot of misinformation in conversations with their peers. Know the facts, don’t minimize or glamorize negative images of drinking, and find answers to sometimes challenging questions.
- Set clear rules, limits, and expectations.
If you have concerns about your child or there is a family history of abuse and dependence, make it clear that you do not want your child drinking and that you trust them not to. Talk about possible consequences of alcohol use, both legal and medical, and be clear about what you will do if the rules are broken.
- Encourage open and honest conversations.
Discussions about alcohol should happen early and often. Research shows that people who start drinking before the age of 15 are 4 times more likely to meet the criteria for alcohol dependence at some point in their lives. Make sure your children know that they can feel comfortable in talking to you about questions or concerns they may have or situations they have encountered. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) “Talk. They Hear You.” Campaign offers many helpful strategies and resources.
- Take advantage of everyday “teachable moments.”
Use everyday events to make your point and start a conversation. Real life situations can not only be uniquely educational and illustrative, they often help to start a real dialogue rather than sounding like a lecture. You might point out alcohol-related situations going on in your own neighborhood. If you and your child are at the park and see a group of kids drinking, use the moment to ask them what they think while highlighting the dangers.
- Give young people the tools and self-confidence to say no.
Children with high refusal skills are less likely to drink underage. Decide on good ways to say “no” and practice them often in role-play situations.
- Be honest about family history.
Research has clearly demonstrated that addiction to alcohol and other drugs is a chronic, progressive disease that can be linked to family history and genetics. So if you have a family history of problems with alcohol or drugs, be forthright but not fatalistic about it. Spell out the genetic risks as you would any other chronic disease.
- Be a role model and set a positive example.
Don’t forget, what you do is often more important than what you say. You can have a powerful influence on your children and the young people you care for, but you need to “walk the walk” rather than just “talk the talk.” Be responsible yourself and establish a positive tone through your everyday actions.
Finally, know the warning signs of teen alcohol abuse and, if you think a younger person you care for has a problem, find effective treatment for them. For more than 15 years, Bridging the Gaps has been providing comprehensive and compassionate treatment for young adults with alcohol and substance use disorders. Our unique, integrative approach to treating the disease of addiction helps to address the health and well-being of the whole person struggling with alcohol and other substances, and our smaller size and tailored approach has proven particularly successful for younger clients who may be in treatment for the first time.