Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Some Interesting Teen Alcohol Use Statistics

I found a crumpled up article cleaning up my briefcase yesterday that I had saved so that I could write about it. It's from a Wall Street Article from last March entitled: " Dad, I prefer the Shiraz. Do parents who serve teens beer and wine raise responsible drinkers." The simple answer is no. But here are some statistics that might surprise you.

  • Teens who attended a party where alcohol was supplied by a parent were twice as likely to be regular drinkers,  and twice as likely to be binge drinkers.
  • In southern European countries like France and Italy, and in Denmark, Ireland and the UK where there is no drinking age limit, statistics show that 15 and 16 year olds are more likely to engage in binge drinking. (There goes the argument that if the drinking age was lowered, kids would drink more responsibly)
  • Brain scans have show that heavy drinking, 20 drinks a month, (Doing the math if kids drink on both Friday and Saturday nights doing only 3 shots a night, which is a very conservative number,  could easily reach this 20 drinks/month number) " create changes in the the frontal cortex, the hippocampus and white matter leading to decreased cognitive function, memory, attention, and spatial skills."
  • "44% of 7,723 High School students surveyed, report that hard liquor is the preferred choice of drink, beer was a distant second, and wine coolers an even more distant 3rd. 
This is important information for not only you to have, but for your teen has as well. The bottom line is that teens have magical thinking. "The, what's the big deal, everybody does it" argument is the prevailing rationalization for teens, and for some parents I might add. Teens are not good in the moderation department. If a little is good, then more must be better. They need you to give them the facts. See above! Have them do their own math, privately. Ask them to think about how much they drink on a given weekend night, and multiply that by 8. Is that number close to the 20 drinks a month that can change their brain forever. Ask them how important their future is to them, grades, SATS , college. If these are important goals they might want to change their drinking behaviors.

The bottom line is most kids drink, and many parents have no idea how much their kids do drink. They may start early in the day/evening, so they can sober up before they get home. They may be serial weekend sleepover teens, and choose houses to stay at where parents are already asleep and tucked away by the time teens get home after an evening of partying, and drinking can go undetected.

You can't control whether your teens make good decisions when they go out, but you can provide them with all the information they need to make the decisions, and strategies for them to stay safe. Teens are drinking in ways that can be scary. They buy water bottles full of vodka from friends for $10 a pop. That's a lot of ounces of booze, but they drink it like "water" chased with some diet coke!

A conversation might go like this: " I get that when the weekends come you and your friends are ready to party. I worry about that cause I know most of you don't think about the dangers, just the fun. I need you to know some facts that I think will be important to you and your future. Did you know that drinking 20 shots/month will literally change your brain, making it harder for you to concentrate, remember things, and be organized. I know you want to be successful in life, and this kind of drinking will make it much harder for you. Go do the math!"

Your teen needs these kinds of conversations on a regular basis. Not only are they risking their potential success in life, but also their emotional health. A parent called me this week to relate this story. Her 16 year daughter was out partying with friends, got really trashed and ended up having sex with a random boy for the first time in some family's bathroom. The mom overheard this through her daughter's door as she sobbed to a friend over the phone that she had lost her virginity in a drunken stupor.

Talking about losing control and defenses, and doing things that later will make them feel ashamed, and humiliated are important conversations to have with your teen. Ask this 16 year old.

Remember, that your teen needs your help with weekend strategies. Just telling them these facts does not help them in the heat of the moment. Helping them to come up with scripts, and action strategies for party going is the only way they can be prepared for all the temptation that will come their way.

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