The Facts About Alcohol and Young People

The Facts About Alcohol and Young People

Jim Windell

             What is the most widely used substance among teens and young adults?

            It’s not marijuana or cocaine. It’s alcohol.

            Although teens drink booze less often than adults, when they do drink they usually drink more or more intensely than the average adult. That usually means that adolescents are binge drinkers.

            But the good news?

            The number of teens who drink alcohol has dropped over the past few decades. Yet, when we consider the consequences of the drinking of young people -- poor judgment, driving under the influence, accidents and alcohol poisoning, as well as damage to the developing brain or addiction – it becomes important, maybe critical, that parents be informed and involved when it comes to youth drinking.   

            That’s why the Partnership to End Addiction developed a new booklet called “Alcohol: What Families Need to Know to Help Protect Young People.” Recognizing that parents are typically the greatest influence on the behavior of youth, the organization is making this free guide available to help parents safeguard their kids from alcohol.

            Some of the statistics in this booklet help explain why parents and caregivers need to take a proactive approach to drinking. For instance, 11 % of young people ages 12 to 20 report binge drinking in the past 30 days. Twenty-five percent of students report that they have tried alcohol by the 8th grade.

            But why do young people start drinking, especially at an early age?

            Sometimes it is, as you might imagine, peer influence that leads them to begin drinking alcohol. However, just as often it is because alcohol is available. They may see their friends or older siblings enjoying it and drinking can be viewed as a part of a normal adolescence. But just as often, it is parental attitudes toward drinking that have a significant impact on children’s attitudes and behaviors. Numerous studies show that children of parents who are more lenient or permissive about youth drinking – allowing their children to drink on occasion, not monitoring the alcohol in the home or modeling alcohol use as a means of relaxing or having fun – are more likely to drink and to do so more heavily than children of more restrictive and cautious parents.

            The booklet points out why parents ought to be concerned about their children using alcohol. For one thing, since the brains of adolescents are still developing, particularly those parts related to decision making and judgment, using alcohol can interfere with healthy development of the brain. Alcohol use also interferes with decision making – leading to risky decisions – and impaired driving. But it is the effect on the mental health of young people that should be a major concern for parents. Drinking alcohol to soothe anxiety or other mental health problems may seem to help in the short term, but symptoms typically worsen in the long term when alcohol is involved. Alcohol use is a significant risk factor in youth suicide.

            This guidebook is especially valuable in terms of providing guidelines for parents to help protect their children from drinking – whether they have started drinking already or not. An important recommendation for parents is to look for opportunities to discuss drinking with their child – and to do so in a calm and reasonable way. It is pointed out that there is no shortage of ways to initiate a conversation and suggests that news stories, school lessons, advertisements, seeing someone drinking on TV or passing a bar are times and situations that will help get a conversation going. Further good advice includes the recommendation that parents need to be ready to listen rather than give a lecture and be sure to focus on health and safety rather than threats and punishment.

            Although substances, including alcohol, will continue to change with the times, the one thing that will remain constant is the need for information and support when raising a teen or young adult. Since parents are the most important, and most powerful, influence on their child’s life, this guidebook is a valuable asset for therapists to pass on to parents who are raising children and teens.

            To download the free guide, go to:


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