4 Things Kids Need to Know about Alcohol
Importance of arming young people with facts about the dangers of alcohol
At some point during early adolescence, even as early as the tween years of 8-12, your child might be introduced to alcohol. Upon looking back at our own youth, many of us have to admit that alcohol was not necessarily out of reach. Whether at a family event or a beach party, or the older sibling of our best friend pouring us a drink, we know firsthand how curious young people are about alcohol.
Knowing this, we have to acknowledge, as grown adults who have witnessed the devastation that alcohol can wrought on anyone of any age, but particularly during the high school and college years, how important it is to arm kids with the practical knowledge of its dangers. Sure, they may give you an eye roll for broaching the topic of alcohol abuse, but even if they appear to be tuning you out, on some level the facts you are giving them will hopefully resonate.
The statistics are truly sobering. According to a 2015 report from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 623,000 kids ages 12-17 had an alcohol use disorder (AUD). In addition, the NIAAA reports that 7.7 million young people aged 12-20 admitted to drinking alcohol in the past month, with 1.3 million in that age range reporting heavy alcohol use. College students continually have higher alcohol consumption rates than other young adults not enrolled in college—underscoring the reality of the party culture on the nation’s college campuses. In 2015, 58% of college students aged 18-22 drank alcohol in the past month compared to 48% of non-college students the same age. 12.5% of the college students admitted to heavy alcohol consumption versus 8.5% of non-college students.
4 Things Kids Should Know about Alcohol
It is wise to begin an ongoing conversation with your kids about the dangers of alcohol at a fairly early age, such as when they start middle school, 6th or 7th grade. It helps to approach your adolescent at a time of the day that allows for a non-lecture type of chat, maybe using a current news story of some young people who were harmed due to alcohol poisoning or drunk driving as a launch point. This topic is not a one-off, but one that deserves to be revisited often throughout the teen years. Peers rule the roost starting at this age, so plant your seeds of wisdom before their friends influence them.
If you have an older teen who is preparing for college, by all means dialogue on a regular basis about the serious dangers of college hazing practices, binge drinking, and drunk driving by using real-life examples, such as fraternity hazing deaths, to drive home your message. All teens need to be informed of the following facts about the dangers of alcohol consumption:
Early abuse of alcohol is a strong indicator of alcoholism later in life. Kids who start drinking before age 15 are six times more likely to become alcoholic later in life, and 2/3 of them become addicted to alcohol by age 25, according to a 2016 report by the Center for Disease Control. Alcohol is a stealthy drug of abuse that causes tolerance to ramp up incrementally, meaning more alcohol must be consumed more often to experience the desired effects. Once alcohol abuse becomes habit, alcohol addiction—the compulsive desire to drink, often to ward off withdrawals—can set in: and alcoholism is a lifelong disease.
Binge drinking kills. Drinking games can result in binge drinking. The CDC defines binge drinking as consuming five or more alcoholic drinks within a two-hour period. Alcohol poisoning is a real danger that often results from excessive binge drinking behavior, and can be fatal. Alcohol-related tragedies are becoming far too common on college campuses. Alcohol poisoning depresses the individual’s involuntary actions, such as breathing and the gag reflex that prevents choking. This can cause the cardiovascular and respiratory systems to fail and/or lead the individual to choke on their vomit—both with fatal consequences.
Using alcohol to self-medicate anxiety or depression is ineffective and can lead to alcoholism. Anxiety and mood disorders such as depression are becoming more common among today’s youth. Some may attempt to self-medicate using alcohol, hoping to relieve the unpleasant symptoms of the mental health issues they are experiencing. Using alcohol may seem to help at first, but begins a vicious cycle that often leads to alcohol addiction, worsening depression, and even suicidality, the occurrence of suicidal thoughts or behaviors. In this case of a dual diagnosis, both the alcohol abuse or alcohol addiction and the mental health disorder must be treated.
Mixing alcohol with other drugs, including caffeine, is dangerous. Drinking alcohol is risky enough, but combining it with another drug can have dangerous, even fatal, consequences. Alcohol is a depressant, so mixing it with a benzodiazepine such as Ativan or Valium can cause slowed or difficulty breathing and impaired motor control. Mixing alcohol with Adderall or Ritalin can cause an increased risk for heart problems and liver damage. Mixing alcohol with cocaine can lead to heart arrhythmias and heart damage. Mixing alcohol with energy drinks can lead to excessive drinking, resulting in risky behavior such as drunk driving or sexual assaults, and other injuries.
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