In recent years, there’s been some good news related to substance abuse trends: Teen alcohol use is actually on the decline. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, binge drinking among high school seniors has dropped by almost one-third since the late 1990s. Its findings also report a sharp decline in daily alcohol use among 10th and 12th graders.

Although these statistics are encouraging, alcohol use is still a serious health and social problem among young people. In fact, there are still many teens who believe drinking is harmless. Part of this perception stems from the way drinking is portrayed in entertainment and popular media. A report by NIDA revealed that in the top 90 movies of the past two decades, one in three show someone getting drunk.

Unfortunately, some parents also underestimate the risk, feeling secure their child is “only drinking” versus using other illegal drugs. But alcohol abuse can have serious negative results for young adults.

Here are the facts:

Early alcohol use increases risk for alcoholism.
Compared with people who start drinking as adults, those who start using alcohol as young teenagers are as much as four times more likely to become dependent on alcohol. Young drinkers are also more likely than their adult counterparts to engage in binge drinking.

Alcohol is linked with many harmful medical consequences.
Not only does alcohol have significant effects on organs such as the brain, heart, liver and pancreas, the National Cancer Institute has identified alcohol as a risk factor for mouth, esophagus, pharynx, larynx, liver and breast cancer.

Drinking while pregnant can cause permanent damage to a child.
Alcohol use during pregnancy can harm a teen’s unborn child, leading to lifelong physical and behavioral problems. Effects of fetal alcohol syndrome include being born small, difficulty paying attention, the need for lifelong medical care, difficulty controlling behavior and problems with eating, sleeping, vision and hearing.

Teenage alcohol use impairs judgment, often resulting in other serious consequences.
Alcohol use can impair brain functioning and motor skills, causing a variety of serious, even life-threatening problems. According to NIDA, about 5,000 people under age 21 in the U.S. die each year from injuries caused by underage drinking – nearly 40 percent (1,900) in car crashes. As further evidence, the Drug Abuse Warning Network reported 4.6 million drug related visits to hospital emergency departments in 2009 – about 32 percent of them involved the use of alcohol.

Alcohol consumption can also lead to unprotected sex, causing unplanned pregnancy or a sexually transmitted infection, such as HIV. Teens under the influence also make poor decisions that could result in problems at school, and even legal charges, from vandalism to public intoxication. Perhaps most concerning: Young people who drink are more vulnerable to violent crimes like rape or assault.

What to do:

•    Acknowledge the problem without minimizing the behavior. Don’t excuse the fact that your teen was “just drinking.” Recognize that adolescence is a time of increased risk for experimentation with alcohol, but make your teen understand there can be long-term consequences associated with its use.

•    Maintain an empathetic tone, and remember what it was like to be a teenager facing various pressures and temptations. Connect with your teen, and take steps to form a more trusting relationship with her. Understand that if you yell at your teen when she opens up about something, she will stop telling you the truth.

•    Recognize the influence you have as a parent, and set a good example. If you drink alcohol, show your kids how to do so in moderation. The adage “more is caught than taught” applies here. “Do as I say, not as I do” is not as effective.

•    Develop clear expectations and rules around alcohol and drug use, such as:
o    Never get in the car with someone who has been using drugs or alcohol.
o    Do not stay at a party where alcohol is being served to teens.
o    We will never serve alcohol to teens in our home.

•    Stay engaged with your teen and ask questions. Do not assume that she will come to you to talk about the pressures she is facing or the questions she has about alcohol use.

•    Take your teen’s alcohol use seriously from the beginning. If you decide to go easy on your child because it was the first time, she is likely to get the impression that it is acceptable.

•    Know when to get your child help, and act quickly. If your efforts to help your teen stop using alcohol have been unsuccessful, seek professional help immediately.

To learn how to recognize the signs of alcohol use in your teen, or to speak with a licensed mental health counselor about your family’s challenges related to alcohol, please contact Compass Rose Academy today.

Townsend, J. (2006). Boundaries with Teens. Grand Rapids: Zondervan