Parents often don’t want to think about it, but teenage alcoholism and alcohol abuse are very real problems. Consider this:
- One in five eighth graders reports drinking alcohol in the last month
- More than 25 percent of high school seniors say they have had five or more drinks in a row in the last week
- 17 percent of eighth graders report getting drunk in the last year
- 71 percent of teens say that alcohol is easy to get
The consequences of child alcohol abuse can be severe. Alcohol use impairs judgment. As a result, alcohol-related traffic accidents are one of the leading causes of death among teens. Drowning, suicide and homicide involving teens is usually linked to alcohol as well. Teenagers who abuse alcohol are more likely to become sexually active early. And teenagers who use alcohol are more likely to become dependent on it than people who start drinking alcohol as adults.
Which children are at higher risk of alcohol abuse?
The list below shows the situations that put children at increased risk for alcohol. Remember that not all children in these categories will abuse alcohol. But they are in a higher risk group:
- Begin using alcohol before age 15
- Have a parent who has a problem with alcohol
- Have close friends who use alcohol or other drugs
- Have experienced childhood abuse
- Have parents who are not supportive and do not communicate openly with them
- Experience hostility or rejection from parents, or receive inconsistent discipline
- Have current behavioral problems or problems in school
What are the signs your child may be abusing alcohol?
According to experts, if your child exhibits more than one of the following behaviors, there’s a chance that alcohol abuse could be an issue:
- Changes in mood, including flare-ups, quick tempers and irritability
- Problems in school, such as poor attendance, low grades or disciplinary action
- Rebelling against rules your family has established
- Befriending new people and not wanting you to get to know them
- An attitude that nothing really matters in terms of appearance or interests
- Finding alcohol in your child’s room or backpack, or smelling alcohol on his or her breath
- Memory lapses, inability to concentrate, bloodshot eyes, slurred speech
What can parents do to decrease the likelihood of alcohol abuse?
Studies show that children who have strong, trusting relationships with their parents or guardian are least likely to drink alcohol early in life. And if they do begin drinking, a strong relationship with parents can help to keep them from becoming alcohol abusers. What can parents and other adults do to create a foundation of trust with their children?
- Listen to your child without interrupting. This encourages open communication, and you’ll find out what’s important to your child and what’s going on in his or her life.
- Ask questions that don’t have “yes” or “no” answers. Instead, ask what they think and how they feel about things.
- If your child tells you things that make you angry, do your best to control that anger. Talk about your concerns without getting out of control. Emphasize how you feel, and use “I” statements. For example, instead of saying something like, “You are being stupid when you tell me it’s okay to drink beer,” you might say, “I feel worried when you tell me you think it’s okay to drink beer, because statistics show that kids who drink are at higher risk of being in serious accidents.”
- Show respect for your child’s viewpoint instead of trying to force your own opinions on your child. Your child will appreciate that respect and be more likely to share more feelings with you.
The Institute of Medicine, “Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility”; National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism;