One in 6 American high-schoolers binge drink; 1 in 5 will get into a car with a drunk driver. Have a candid talk with your teen about the effects of alcohol.
If you are inclined to look the other way when your teen drinks alcohol, consider these numbers:
- In a 2015 survey of U.S. high schoolers by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18 percent reported having five or more drinks in a two-hour stretch — which meets the definition of binge drinking. Almost half of this group said they’d had eight or more drinks in a row.
- Eight percent drove after drinking alcohol.
- And 20 percent rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol.
How can you make sure your own children don’t binge or get into a car with a driver who’s been drinking? Try to have an ongoing conversation about the effects of alcohol rather than covering everything at once in a dramatic lecture.
You might start by asking your son (or daughter) why he thinks kids in his school drink. Along the way you can see what he actually knows about the effects of alcohol. Steer clear of scare tactics but make sure he knows the following facts.
- Drinking easily creeps up on you — you can be drunk before you realize it, and most people can’t judge how much the alcohol has affected them. So you may think you can drive safely — when you really can’t. Lay out exactly what alcohol does to the body: it slows you down, and interferes with your vision, reaction time, and judgment. Your son needs to know not to trust an older kid who says, “I’m fine,” and offers him a ride, even if he knows his friend is a good person.
- Beer and wine contain less alcohol, but the alcohol has the same effect. They aren’t “safe” if you drink too much.
- It takes at least two and sometimes three hours for a single drink to leave your system, and nothing can speed that up. Drinking coffee, taking a cold shower, or going for a walk might make you temporarily more alert, but you’ll still be influenced by the alcohol.
- Drinking doesn’t always lead to fun times. It can bring out sadness and anger, too. Drinking parties often turn sour for someone.
When your son tells you why he thinks people drink, listen closely for the belief that drinking will make him cool, popular, attractive, and happy. You might bring up the discussion if you see a television ad in which people are having a fantastic time while drinking. Let him know that the ad isn’t telling the whole story, but selling beer or liquor.
Clear rules help. The rules might be:
- Kids will not drink alcohol until they are 21.
- Older siblings will not encourage younger brothers or sisters to drink and will not give them alcohol.
- Kids will not stay at teen parties where alcohol is served.
- Kids will not ride in a car with a driver who has been drinking.
If you think a little drinking is okay, be clear about that, too, and what you mean by “a little.” Don’t say one thing while your children know you mean another.
Once you feel your teens understand why they need to avoid situations with a lot of alcohol — or any alcohol, if that’s the message — help them think about how to deal with peer pressure.
What should they do if they find themselves at parties with alcohol or they’re offered a ride by someone who has been drinking? You might offer to pick them up and promise not to scold them. For other ideas, consider looking at this website together.
Appeal to self-respect. Let your teens know that they have too much going for them to take risks and allow alcohol to interfere with their life.
If you believe they’re already drinking, point out the possibility of getting into embarrassing situations. Your son’s girlfriend’s parents could forbid her from seeing him, for example. This might be the time to talk candidly about sex — while you may want to discourage sexual activity, it’s still important to discuss the concept of “consent.” You might ask him to imagine how a girl might feel if she realizes the next day she’s had sexual intercourse while drunk and didn’t use a condom or other birth control. How would she feel if she became pregnant or had a sexually transmitted disease? If he answers that those risks are unlikely, and she made her “choice,” point out that she can’t make a good decision while under the influence of alcohol. Consent happens beforehand, when she’s clear-headed, and should be verbal.
Remind him that if he drives while impaired by alcohol he could hurt himself or die, or hurt or kill his passengers and people in other cars.
Let him know if there’s any family history of alcoholism that could make him more vulnerable and that drinking in your teens ups your risk of dependency.
So what do you do when your children say, “I bet you drank when you were a kid!”? You might give your children examples of times you got into trouble. This is a tough moment if you happen to drink a fair amount yourself. Depending on the age of your child and your relationship, you might confess to problems with alcohol now.
Keep track of the alcohol in your home, and encourage your child to entertain friends in your home while you’re there. Connect with other parents to make sure they agree with your own rules about alcohol use.
Set a good example. Don’t teach your child that alcohol is a good way to handle problems, announcing “I had a rotten day. I need a drink.” Let your child see that you have other options, like going for a run or listening to music. Don’t tell your kids stories about your own drinking if it makes it seem fun or exciting.
If all this sounds like a lot of trouble, remember that any alcohol, but bingeing especially, increases the risk of bad grades, rap sheets, booze-fueled sex, and accidents behind the wheel, as well as suicide and alcohol poisoning. People who begin drinking before the age of 15 are six times more likely to have drinking problems later in life, compared to those who wait until 21.
Revisit the discussion when your children are going off to college, where they’ll encounter more keg parties and fraternity and sorority rituals. Nearly 40 percent of college students confess to binging on alcohol in the past month. According to studies cited by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol is tied to more than 1,800 college student deaths each year; almost 700,000 suffer injuries. Lots of people confess that they’ve been too drunk to even know if they consented to sex. About a quarter of students say their drinking affects their academic performance.
February 27, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN