MSA Pure Spirits 2018 Q2 - 45

Talking to Kids about Alcohol
The dangers and harms of underage drinking are genuine and severe.
Conscientious parents are perhaps the most important link in prevention.

T

here are those illogical laws
that we'd just as soon ignore, and those that we're in
no danger of committing in the first
place. In Michigan, for example, married women aren't supposed to cut
their hair without their husband's
permission; and in Detroit, it's supposedly illegal to let your pig run free
unless it has a ring in its nose.
Other laws, however, carry the
weight of logic and morality as well
as of legal enforcement. Underage
drinking is one of those laws. It's not
just an edict supported by stodgy
adults who don't want "young'uns"
to have fun; kids' brains just aren't
ready for the effects of alcohol.
If you're a parent or other adult
relative or mentor-or if you're a teenager-digest a few of the facts about
underage drinking and use these facts
to make a positive influence.
WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL?
According to the National Institute on
Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, youth
ages 12 through 20 drink 11 percent
of all alcohol consumed in the United
States. And when they drink, they drink
more than adults do-they consume
more than 90 percent of their alcohol
in binge drinking sessions. In 2015, 5.1
million young people reported binge
drinking at least once a month, including 1.3 million who binge drank on five
or more days over the past month.
Underage drinking causes other
problems:
Interferes with brain development.
Young people's brains keep developing well into their 20s, and alcohol

can negatively alter this development. A study led by neuroscientist
Susan Tapert of the University of
California, San Diego, found damaged nerve tissue in the brains of
teenagers who drank compared with
those who didn't. Further studies
indicated that young binge drinkers
did worse on thinking and memory
tests. In boys, the damage hampered
attention span; in girls, it lowered
their ability to comprehend and interpret visual information.
Increases the risk of alcohol
problems later in life.
Research also shows that people
who start drinking before the age of
15 are four times more likely to become dependent on alcohol later in
life. This tendency is more than just
habituated behavior. Pediatrician
and brain researcher Ron Dahl of
the University of Pittsburgh notes
two teen tendencies that can lead to
this result.
First, adolescents seem to have
a higher tolerance for the negative
external effects of drinking, such as
feeling ill, meaning they can consume more. "That also creates a liability for the spiral of addiction and
binge use of these substances," Dahl
says.
Second, he says, the teen brain is
structured for intense, all-consuming learning, leading to becoming
passionate about chosen activities
and beliefs. "But those same tendencies to explore and try new things
and try on new identities may also
increase the likelihood of starting
on negative pathways."

TALK!
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
Administration has created tools and strategies to
help parents talk to their kids about alcohol. These
include a smartphone app, "Talk. They Hear You," an
interactive game that helps parents learn the best
ways to talk to kids about drinking, and conversation
suggestions.

FIVE CONVERSATION GOALS
1. Show you disapprove of underage drinking.
More than 80% of young people ages 10-18 say
their parents are the leading influence on their
decision to drink or not drink. So they really are
listening, and it's important that you send a clear
and strong message.
2. Show you care about your child's happiness and
well-being.
Young people are more likely to listen when they
know you're on their side. Try to reinforce why
you don't want your child to drink-not just because you say so, but because you want your child
to be happy and safe. The conversation will go a
lot better if you're working with, and not against,
your child.
3. Show you're a good source of information about
alcohol.
You want your child to be making informed decisions about drinking, with reliable information
about its dangers. You don't want your child to be
learning about alcohol from friends, the internet,
or the media-you want to establish yourself as a
trustworthy source of information.
4. Show you're paying attention and you'll notice if
your child drinks.
You want to show you're keeping an eye on your
child, because young people are more likely to
drink if they think no one will notice. There are
many subtle ways to do this without prying.
5. Build your child's skills and strategies for avoiding
underage drinking.
Even if your child doesn't want to drink, peer
pressure is a powerful thing. It could be tempting
to drink just to avoid looking uncool. To prepare
your child to resist peer pressure, you'll need to
build skills and practice them.
Keep it low-key. Don't worry, you don't have to
get everything across in one talk. Many small
talks are better.
To learn more about the SAMHSA program, go to
https://www.samhsa.gov/underagedrinking

SPRING/SUMMER 2018 45


https://www.samhsa.gov/underagedrinking

MSA Pure Spirits 2018 Q2

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