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Underage drinking is on the rise; talk to children before they start

Nov. 01, 2013 @ 03:10 PM

Most children and teens age 9 to 20 are at high risk of drinking alcohol. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an estimated 10 million people under the age of 21 admitted to drinking alcoholic beverages in the past month during a study completed in 2011.

Thirty-three percent of eighth-graders and 70 percent of 12th-graders say they have tried drinking alcohol at some point in their lives. Of those who say that have drank, 65 percent say that they get drunk at least once in a typical month. Statistics prove that the majority of children and teens will try alcohol and drink to get drunk before the age of 21. For additional data, see www.samhsa.gov.

The statistics are shocking and hard to believe. Parents don't think that their child will drink alcohol to feel drunk before the legal age. Some parents believe allowing drinking as long as the teens are under their supervision in their home, not drinking too much and not driving is alright, saying "they are going to do it anyway so it is better to control it." This is a big mistake.

Parents who allow underage drinking are signing the permission slip and promoting it. These parents are deceiving themselves by thinking their children are only drinking by their rules and not to excess or not in other places. Drinking alcohol before age 21 is directly correlated to other unhealthy outcomes, including, injury or death from accidents; unintended, unwanted or unprotected sexual activity; health problems like depression and anxiety; academic problems; and drug use (according to www.samhsa.gov).

The effects of alcohol on a developing brain can be lethal. The frontal lobe of the brain does not fully mature until age 21-23. Executive functions like good decision making, weighing consequences, thinking and planning ahead, and good judgment are not fully developed until age 21-23 for most young adults. Compound the immature brain with inhibition-lowering, judgment distorting substances like alcohol and the combination is at least dangerous and may be lethal. Young people drinking to excess may overdose on alcohol, drinking too much before realizing it, and they can die from alcohol poisoning or from aspirating on (breathing in) their own vomit.

Parents talking to their children about the dangers of alcohol consumption is the most valuable weapon in the arsenal for combating underage drinking. Though it seems that teenagers are listening more to friends and media than parents, the child's parents or guardians are still the first and most important teachers for children. They really are listening. By the time some parents start the conversation, the child has already tried alcohol. Children are less likely to drink (or use drugs) when they have a strong, trusting relationship with their parent(s), according to www.samhsa.gov.

Talk to children by the time they are 9 years old, before they start, and keep on talking as they grow, all the way through adolescence. Short, frequent discussions have an impact on a child's choices as opposed to a one-time long talk. Make it clear that underage drinking is unacceptable and keep messages consistent. Give the child time to talk about their views and experiences so the conversation is a two-way street. Remember that what you do is as important as what you say. If adults are enjoying alcohol frequently, no matter how much is said, the child will be confused by the mixed message. If you keep alcohol in the house, make sure children know it's off limits to them, until they are at least 21 years old.

Some warning signs that your child might be drinking alcohol include changes in your child's behavior and attitude. Some changes are a natural part of growing up. When changes are dramatic or sudden or there are several changes, there could be a problem with underage drinking.

The following can signal a problem: mood changes like extreme irritability or defensiveness; falling grades, poor attendance or disciplinary problems at school; rebellion at home or against family rules; switching friends; "nothing matters" attitude that might include changes in appearance, lack of involvement in former activities, or low energy; or finding signs of alcohol.

Signs of alcohol use might include finding empty alcohol containers or the smell of alcohol in the child's room, backpack or breath. Memory lapses, poor coordination, bloodshot eyes, staggering gait, slurred speech can be signs of alcohol intoxication and may require a trip to the local hospital emergency room.

It can be hard to believe that the beautiful child you have cared for so much for so many years could use alcohol or other drugs. Feeling bad or blaming yourself for their alcohol use will not help and it might interfere with them getting help. It is tempting to blame others when it happens, mostly the child's friends. Accepting that your child has been underage drinking is important to getting help. Getting professional help quickly is the most important step a family can take.

If you or someone you know has been involved in underage drinking or using drugs, call your health insurance company for a list of approved local providers, or talk to the child's school counselor or pediatrician. Prestera Center offers rapid intake and effective treatment. Prestera Center offers services to children, adolescents, adults and families. Individuals and families get better with the right kind of care. Prestera Center offers a variety of services that promote wellness and recovery, helping people achieve their full potential.

Prestera Center offers Putnam County residents access to effective professional mental health and addictions treatment services in Winfield and Hurricane. Offices in Winfield are located at 3389 Winfield Road, Suite 8, on the grounds of the Courthouse Complex (304-586-0670). Offices in Hurricane are called "Hopewell" and are located at 3772 Teays Valley Road (304-757-8475). The Hopewell offices specialize in serving adults with insurance in need of addiction treatment and mental health problems like grief, depression and anxiety or more severe mental health problems. Both offices are accepting new clients and scheduling appointments. Walk-ins are also welcome Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. at the Winfield location.

Kim Miller is the director of Corporate Development at Prestera. She can be reached at kim.miller@prestera.org.

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