Drug Rehabilitation Blog

Stop Underage Drinking

Keeping Our Kids Sober – Causes and Effects of Binge Drinking in Today’s Youth

What a young drinker’s brain remembers will affect what it can’t later

Parents of high school and college-aged children have long struggled to keep their kids away from the pressures and temptations of their hard-partying peers. As adults, the decisions that we make are based on our life experiences, a sort of cause-and-effect method of thinking that helps us to base our choices on previous outcomes. It is this kind of thought process that separates the wisdom of adulthood from the inexperience of youth.

Our young people, however, often don’t have that basis to judge the possible consequences of their decisions, opting for the choice that will give them the greatest pleasure and satisfaction at that very moment, with little or no regard for the possible negative effects that those choices might hold in store. Part of growing up is learning how to give up that instant gratification for more long-term satisfaction. In many cases, our kids have to learn from their own mistakes, and no amount of pleading from us will change that.

However, we can take certain steps to help guide our children towards the healthier path by keeping them informed on the dangers and possible negative outcomes of some of the choices that they will be faced with as they go through life. Making our kids aware that the decisions they make will have consequences, some positive and others negative, will help to shape their decision-making abilities and give them confidence, strength and a sense of personal empowerment and responsibility. They will be able to resist the peer pressures that they will be faced with, and learn to be leaders of the pack rather than followers. They can learn to recognize the outcomes of their decisions and make the choices that will benefit them more in the long run.

The Effects of Drinking in Youth

According to a fact sheet released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), alcohol abuse is prevalent among our nation’s young people.

“Alcohol use by persons under age 21 years is a major public health problem. Alcohol is the most commonly used and abused drug among youth in the United States, more than tobacco and illicit drugs, and is responsible for more than 4,300 annual deaths among underage youth. Although drinking by persons under the age of 21 is illegal, people aged 12 to 20 years drink 11% of all alcohol consumed in the United States. More than 90% of this alcohol is consumed in the form of binge drinks. On average, underage drinkers consume more drinks per drinking occasion than adult drinkers. In 2010, there were approximately 189,000 emergency rooms visits by persons under age 21 for injuries and other conditions linked to alcohol.”CDC Alcohol & Public Health Fact Sheet – Underage Drinking

Among high school students, the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey determined that 21% engaged in binge drinking, 10% got behind the wheel of a vehicle after drinking and 22% rode with someone who was drinking. These risky behaviors are just a few examples of the choices that our children are making that could have dire consequences.

But there are also other consequences of underage drinking that aren’t always evident right away. Physical illness, problems in school or social life, legal issues, physical or sexual assault, not to mention being 500% more likely to develop alcohol dependency later in life, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. We have also been long aware that alcohol affects the brain in its developmental stages much differently than in adulthood. A recent study has demonstrated even stronger evidence of exactly the type and severity of this altered brain development.

Published on April 27th, 2015, in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, the study concluded that subjecting the brain to repeated alcohol exposure during the formative adolescent years results in structural and functional abnormalities in the hippocampus, the area of the brain related to learning and memory. In their research, they found connections between neurons that were misshapen in the brain that had resulted from exposure to alcohol at a young age. When stimulated, these neurons over-reacted in a manner much like that of a younger individual. This indicated that binge drinking in youthful years will cause brain cells to be trapped in a Peter Pan syndrome, where those brain cells never “grow up” to be fully functioning adult brain cells.

“In the eyes of the law, once people reach the age of 18, they are considered adult, but the brain continues to mature and refine all the way into the mid-20s,” said lead author Mary-Louise Risher, a post-doctoral researcher in the Duke Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. “It’s important for young people to know that when they drink heavily during this period of development, there could be changes occurring that have a lasting impact on memory and other cognitive functions. It’s quite possible that alcohol disrupts the maturation process, which can affect these cognitive function later on.”

With all of this evidence showing the dangers of underage drinking, it is crucial that we must do everything that we can to help our young people see that their choices in life can have far-reaching long-term effects that they might not have realized.

Making the Right Choice: Giving Guidance through Support and Communication

In our efforts to show our children that drinking is not a good idea, no matter what their friends might say, it is not enough to teach them the negative aspects of alcohol abuse. We must also offer them positive alternatives, solutions to overcoming peer pressure and, above all, keep open and honest lines of communication available to them at all times. Scare tactics just won’t cut it. In order for our kids to trust us as parents and positive role models in life, they must know that we are here to help in any way that we can, by giving them options and teaching them skills that will help them avoid uncomfortable situations and temptations that might lead them down the wrong path.

Some Alternatives to Drinking

As we inform our children of the negative consequences of drinking alcohol, we should also give them choices that will be more beneficial to them later in life, and to show them the long-term positive effects that these alternatives will have for them. Some examples might include:

  • Music Lessons – Does your child have a favorite band, singer, DJ or performer? Engage them in conversation about it, and try to get them enrolled to learn how to play a musical instrument or use production software that will excite them. Allow them to express their creativity and develop their own style.
  • Sports or Athletics – Is your son or daughter’s room covered in pictures of a favorite professional sports team or athlete? Chances are that they most likely already involved in that sport, possibly in school or a recreational league. If this is a passion that they have, it is important that they are encouraged. Go to as many of their games as you can possibly make it to. Practice at home with them, shooting hoops or throwing a ball around. Use it to bond with your child and they will come to trust you and be more open with you.
  • Visit a Museum or Art Exhibit – If your child is constantly doodling, painting, drawing or otherwise being artistic, consider a weekly excursion to a local museum or art show. Talk with them about their passion and try to find out more about their artistic influences. If comic book or graphic novel art is more their thing, try to find a local ComiCon to take them to. Showing encouragement for them in their art is certain to help strengthen your relationship.
  • Make Room for Them in Your Own Life and Passions – How about you? Are there any hobbies or recreational activities that you could include them in? Fishing, woodwork, cross stitch, hiking, camping, auto work, anything that will allow you to spend time with your children will help to strengthen your bond and show them that there is plenty to do without drinking alcohol.

Overcoming Peer Pressure and Temptation

Another part of providing effective guidance to our children in avoiding alcohol abuse is teaching them different ways to push back against peer pressure. In social settings, such as high school and college parties, your child will inevitably be exposed to some of their friends drinking alcohol. Those friends will usually try to get your son or daughter to join in. It is important to teach them ways to say “no” without ostracizing themselves. Role-playing with your child can help them get used to using tactics to overcome pressure from others. Here are just a few ways that you can help them to make the right choice:

  • Simply saying, “No, thanks.”– It really could be just as easy as that! However, if the pressure persists, your child may have to back up their “No, thanks” with other tactics.
  • Repeat as Necessary – Your son or daughter can keep saying “no” as many times as they need to. This can help by making the other person stop pushing or allowing your child to stall until they can think of something else to say.
  • Give Them a Reason – “That’s bad for you”, “You could die from that”, or simply “I don’t want to” are all valid responses to any pressure that your child might feel to use alcohol. The important thing is that your child learns to state their reason for not joining in with confidence. Arguing isn’t necessary when they can speak their mind with conviction.
  • Assertiveness – This is truly the most important part of any tactic to avoiding peer pressure. If your child can stick up for his or herself, they are learning an important life skill. Assertively stating a position is a valued trait in adults. Learning to do this at a young age is excellent preparation for later in life.
  • Be a Leader, Not a Follower – Suggesting something else, such as “Let’s do ____________ instead”, gives your child the opportunity to not only refuse a friend’s offer of alcohol, but also allows them the opportunity to keep another friend from doing it as well.
  • Walk Away – Sometimes, the person just won’t relent, putting more and more pressure on in hopes of having control over your son or daughter. In this case, walking away from the situation is the best option. However, this won’t always work. Sometimes, your child will find themselves in a situation where walking away isn’t possible.

Communicating Openly and Honestly

Your children may find themselves in situations where they can’t get away from the person who is pressuring them to use. They might be at a friend’s house for a sleepover, or at a party that is too far away from home to walk. It is crucial that they feel like they are able to call you or another trusted adult to come and get them without judgment. If your child feels like they are going to be punished or scolded for calling you for help, they probably aren’t going to. They need to know that, by making the right choice to get away from that uncomfortable situation, they will be praised and commended for their responsibility and assertiveness.

There certainly is a lot involved in parenting, and teaching our values to our children is an important aspect of that. By practicing these strategies in our everyday lives, we can help shape our teens and young adults little by little into the strong, confident and responsible leaders that we will need tomorrow.

5 Comments

  • Angie

    It is such a good point that kids need to know that they can call you, or another adult for help, and that they feel safe. We need to teach them that they won’t get in trouble for asking for help in situations like that. Rather than making them feel like they will be in trouble for being at a party where they were faced with peer pressure, it is best to make them feel like they did a good thing for calling you for help when they were faced with peer pressure. This will most likely have the added benefit of strengthen their bond with you as they feel you will always have their back and that they can turn to you with their problems and not face judgment or horrible consequences. It also teaches them that asking for help is a good thing and not something that is to be punished.

  • Amanda

    Underage drinking is a huge problem. I remember growing up and experiencing the underage drinking party scene. Not smart now looking back, but also seeing that it was hard to not be apart of the scene as well. It was the way of life and it was an easy way to feel open and be able to speak to people you do not normally. Now I do not drink at all and I was able to learn how to speak to people better. I also got older and more comfortable with myself. I feel kids need more of this from there parents and school. Just saying no don’t do it or drinking is bad or you better not does not give them anything to handle. I thought this article was great and gave parents ideas on how to help their children better.

  • Walter

    Wow! This was a good article! I have to admit that although I am in the easier stage of parenting as my child is only almost 3, but the thought of my son being put in some of the situations that I was in when I was a kid is a frightening concept. I do not want my son to encounter what I ran into. Also, i know now that a lot of the advice that my dad gave me will be inevitably what i tell him but i just need to figure out how to get him to listen where i didn’t. I feel that this article gives a lot of good stable data to think with as a parent. It is very true that when i was focusing on my athletics i didnt use drugs or drink nearly as much although I was still around it. I cared more about what would happen as the sport became more important than the drug, but i just wished i had sick with that and not used. I strongly recommend that if you know someone who has kids you can get them to read this article. It could make the difference between an addict and a clean child.

  • Diane C

    These are great ideas as alternatives you can use with your kid to get their attention on other things rather than drugs. I know this works as my son was totally into sports and we always kept him in some kind of sport group as he was growing up and the one time we let him go on his own for about a year, he actually tried a drink and tried smoking. Thankfully we got him right back into sports and that was the end of that but it is really true that unless kept busy with something they are interested in, they will get pulled into other things that may not be good for them.

  • Jonathan

    I do agree that people should learn from their mistakes if they do make them but experience is highly overrated as opposed to knowledge. For instance, I do not have to taste a chocolate covered cockroach to know I don’t like eating them. The same goes for children, they can grow to the point of where they are taught that something is bad for them and could cause them death. Rather than experiencing it one time and dying or having some horrible after effect.

    The main thing is to stay in communication with your kids and don’t be afraid to invade privacy. A kid’s privacy is not worth their life.

    The fact that there is so many underaged kids visiting the emergency rooms is quite frightening. And more people need to be informed on this matter. Not just kids but the people that is supplying this alcohol. Because I doubt all of them, maybe just a handful rather, steal from their parents liquor cabinet. I am sure when this is done the parent confronts them on it and ends it off right there. Someone is supplying these young kids the alcohol that is doing this and this person needs to see the effects that they are causing. Maybe there should be a very gruesome penalty for a person selling or giving alcohol to an underaged kid. Like 10+ years in jail. And each kid that is sent to the emergency room is questioned for who gave them the liquor and they are sentenced to jail, possibly even 20+ years because they almost killed a kid.

    It is important to talk to the youth about alcohol abuse and how it affects them but on their level. If you say “Oh, it damages your brain you see?” it won’t get through to them. Kids tend to think they are invincible and because of how quickly they bounce back from damaging effects, they are nearly right. But we need to talk to them so they understand that this damages them in their later years and the affects that it can have in later life. Because if someone would have said to me at a young age “If you drink that, you might not remember your mom’s name when you get older”. That would have scared the hell out of me and I probably would have never touched alcohol. Now I am not saying scare the youth out of the idea of ever drinking alcohol but communicate to them with something that they can understand.

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