In America, alcohol is the only mind-altering drug sold widely and legally, without a prescription. Yet for people younger than 21, alcohol is as illegal as any street drug. Teenagers in Wisconsin can lose their driver's licenses by being caught drinking any amount of alcohol.
Despite the laws, teens are drinking more than ever. It is estimated that more than half of the 20.7 million junior and senior high school students in the
United States drink alcohol. In a recent survey, 27 percent of high school seniors reported binge drinking (five or more drinks in a row) during the month before the survey was taken. Every year, 8,000 adolescents die in alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents. Another 45,000 are injured.
Alcohol is too big of an issue to avoid in parent/teen discussions. A good way to diffuse some of the danger is to talk in advance and set some clear guidelines on alcohol use. As a start, consider the following ideas:
- Share your feelings clearly and early. Most parents expect teens to obey the law and not drink prior to age 21. The sooner you say this the better, since use at a younger age makes problem drinking more likely.
- Consider your own behavior. Some parents choose to give up or limit alcohol to serve as a better example to their teens.
- Allowing teens to drink in your home makes you legally responsible for anything that happens.
- Act out potential situations together. If a teen is offered a drink, what are ways to gracefully refuse a drink or an invitation to a drinking party? What could be said to a friend who wants to drive drunk?
- Insist on responsibility when teens gather. Find out whether an adult will chaperone teen parties and who will attend. Consider keeping your teen away if known alcohol abusers are involved or if the party will have no adult supervision. It is a good idea to discuss the party with the adults who will be attending to find out their attitude toward drinking.
- Stress safety if your teen does drink. Offer a ride home, no questions asked, if your teen calls.
- Caution your teen about dangers, such as date rape, which often are associated with alcohol. Tell your teen to never leave a drink, even a nonalcoholic drink, unattended.
- Before a drinking incident happens, make clear any punishments you choose for alcohol use.
- Make certain your teen is aware of school rules. Many schools don't allow teens who have been caught drinking to participate in sports.
- Watch for signs of serious abuse. Look for long-term changes in mood or a major change in grades. If you are worried, talk to a family physician, a member of the clergy or a school guidance counselor.
At some point, every teen is faced with the temptation to try alcohol. Your child's ability to resist could depend on the steps you take to help today.