Alcohol Awareness Month April 2015
In a society that continually promotes alcohol and drug use at every level — even here in Knoxville, Tennessee — the need to provide education on the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse and its effect on children has never been greater. The Metropolitan Drug Commission believes education on this critical threat to the health of our community needs to begin as early as possible. Educated children and youth, whose parents have established clear boundaries, are much more resistant to these dangers and better able to make healthy choices about substance use.
Alcohol and drug use tends to begin in mid-to-late adolescence, and the earlier the age at which someone starts drinking the greater the risk that he or she will develop alcohol-related problems later in life. A delay in drinking until the age of 21 greatly reduces the risk of developing alcohol-related problems. Various factors can contribute to underage drinking, from experimentation, a desire for social acceptance, and while the national percentage of teenagers who drink alcohol is slowly declining, numbers are still quite high. Nearly 30 percent of adolescents report drinking by 8th grade, and 54 percent report being drunk at least once by 12th grade.
Drinking alcohol undoubtedly is part of our culture, and conversations between parents and children about its risks are imperative. Parents’ changing role in their maturity can make talking about alcohol a challenge and parents may have trouble setting concrete family rules for alcohol use. Research shows parents are the biggest influence in preventing and reducing adolescent risky behaviors and helping our youth lead healthy lives.
Youth who learn about the dangers of alcohol and drugs at home are up to 50 percent less likely to use these substances than ones who don’t learn about such dangers. Parents influence whether and when adolescents begin drinking. Family rules about adolescent drinking and parental attitudes are important.
So, what can parents do to help minimize the likelihood that their adolescent will choose to drink?
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services studies have shown that it is important to:
- Talk early and often, in developmentally appropriate ways, with children and teens about your concerns—and theirs—regarding alcohol. Adolescents who know their parents’ opinions about youth drinking are more likely to fall in line with their expectations.
- Establish rules early on, and be consistent in setting expectations and enforcement of violations. Adolescents do feel that parents should have a say in decisions about drinking, and they maintain this deference to parental authority as long as they perceive the message to be legitimate.
- Work with other parents to monitor where kids are gathering and what they are doing. Being involved in the lives of adolescents is key to keeping them safe.
An adolescent’s peers drinking behaviors also influences his or her choice about alcohol use. Another powerful influence is the media: movies and television that depict alcohol use, music that includes lyrics about alcohol use, and advertisements.
Reducing underage drinking is critical to assuring a healthy future for youth and requires a cooperative effort from parents, schools, community organizations, business leaders, government agencies, the entertainment industry, alcohol manufacturers/retailers and young people themselves.
“We must continue our efforts to help our next generation avoid the many problems that alcohol abuse and alcoholism can bring to their lives,” said Karen Pershing, Executive Director of MDC.
For more information about Alcohol Awareness Month, please visit www.ncadd.org.