Teen Alcohol Use

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alcoholExperimenting is a normal part of adolescence

Experimenting is a normal part of adolescence, but when it involves risky behaviors or substances such as alcohol, parents need to step in. Drinking under the age of 21 is illegal in the United States, and drinking during adolescence can affect your teen’s brain development since it is still maturing. Alcohol use in adolescents is also linked to an increase in violent crime, school and social problems, and car accidents. It is important for you as a parent to know the facts about alcohol, warning signs of alcohol use, and ways to help your child if you discover that she is consuming alcohol. Most importantly, keep the lines of communication open, because research shows that teens that have close and supportive relationships with their parents are less likely to start drinking at a young age.

Prevent alcohol abuse by encouraging positive behaviors

Build a strong, open relationship with your teen.
You are the person your child looks up to the most, even though you may not think so at times. As your child becomes a teenager, he needs one-on-one time with you even more. Set clear expectations for your child and establish family rules for drinking, with appropriate consequences. Finally, understand that your child is growing up, and although you may have less control over him, he still needs your guidance and support.

Take an interest in your teen’s life. Get to know your child’s friend’s parents. This will help you keep a closer tab on your teen and make sure you and other parents are on the same page about rules. Also, be aware of your child’s whereabouts and encourage her to participate in after-school activities. Activities and hobbies can keep kids busy and help them form healthy relationships.

Be a role model. Research shows that if a parent uses alcohol, her child is more likely to begin using alcohol. So, limit your drinking, and show your child healthy ways to cope with the stresses of life.

Talk to your teen about alcohol. Bring up the topic by finding out your child’s views on alcohol use. Comment on a sports star pictured drinking or a television show that shows drinking as cool. Then share with your child important facts about alcohol, such as:
  • Alcohol impairs coordination; slows reaction time; and affects vision, clear thinking and judgment.
  • It takes 2-3 hours for a single drink to leave your system, and nothing can speed up that process.
  • It can be difficult to judge how seriously alcohol affects someone. So, although an individual may think he can control a car, he actually cannot.
  • Anyone can develop a serious alcohol problem, even a teenager.
  • Alcohol is involved in over half of all violent deaths of teenagers.
Know what to look out for. Even if you think you are overreacting or that these are normal signs of teenage behavior, talk to a professional if you are worried or see more than one of the following things in your teen’s behavior:
  • Changes in mood, such as irritability and defensiveness.
  • Changes in school including increased absences, falling grades, and decreased interest in succeeding at school.
  • Social changes including new friends and increased late-night activities.
  • Changes in behavior such as loss of interest in activities or hobbies that once interested your child; lower energy levels; lying about friends and whereabouts; and withdrawal from family.
  • Physical changes such as blackouts, bloodshot eyes, weight changes, unexplained injuries, frequent headaches, and nausea.
Have a plan for how to say no. Even though your child may not believe this, over 2/3 of teens age 12 – 17 choose not to drink. If your teen’s friends drink, there may be pressure for him to drink alcohol, too. Most of the time, his friends may be more accepting than he thinks. The best way to refuse alcohol is to just say no in a firm way by standing up straight, making eye contact, and not making excuses. However, if your child feels uncomfortable saying no or feels as if she would offend her friends, offer them alternative ways to resist peer pressure. Talk about ways for your teen to handle situations in which alcohol is involved. For example, let her know that if she finds herself at a party where people are drinking, she can call you and you’ll pick her up, no questions asked. Be supportive of your child, and let her know that you’ll be there when she needs you.

This information was compiled by Sunindia Bhalla, One Tough Job Manager, and reviewed by the Program Staff of the Massachusetts Children’s Trust Fund.

Additional resources available under the Student Health & Safety section.

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