Youth and Alcohol
Facts about youth and alcohol
- Nearly 70% of 8th graders perceive alcoholic beverages as “fairly easy” or “very easy” to get.
- By the time they complete high school nearly 80% of teenagers have consumed alcohol, 30% reporting having been drunk in the past month, and 29% report having 5 or more drinks in a row in the past two weeks.
- A little over 20% of 8th graders report having been drunk at least once in their life compare to almost 45% of 10th graders and 60% of 12th graders.
With that said, there is a good chance your teen will be exposed to alcohol during his or her school years, especially between high school ending and college or university beginning. With annual events like graduation parties and summertime celebrations filling your teen’s social calendar, their chances of being exposed to alcohol increase. Thus, it may be more challenging for parents to delay their teen’s use of alcohol. So what can you do?
First, it’s important for you to know basic information relating to youth and alcohol in order to educate your teen so they can make more responsible decisions.
Effects of alcohol
Alcohol is a depressant; it slows down parts of the brain. In fact, alcohol blocks some of the messages trying to get to the brain, which alters a person’s perceptions, emotions, movement, vision, and hearing. Therefore, it’s harder to think clearly, make good decisions and do various tasks when one consumes alcohol.
Drinking alcohol can also make you feel more relaxed. Some may turn to alcohol to relieve stress or maybe to feel more at ease in social situations. Alcohol may help deal with stress or anxiety in the short term; however, it can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety and make stress harder to deal with in the long run.
Alcohol can also damage your memory. Soon after drinking alcohol, your brain processes slow down and your memory can be impaired, which can cause short-term memory failure (i.e. forgetting what you did or said the night before) when drinking larger quantities of alcohol.
Most young people don’t drink in moderation on a regular basis; instead, they alternate between periods of drinking no alcohol and binge drinking. This puts them at a higher risk for dangers such as injury, violence and aggression, alcohol poisoning, sexual behaviours and drinking and driving.
Why should youth delay alcohol consumption?
There is no age at which it is considered “normal” for youth to start drinking, although the legal age to buy alcohol – a law intended to support the idea of postponed drinking – is 19 in Ontario. Often, the earlier an adolescent starts to drink, the more frequently he or she drinks, and the more likely they are do develop alcohol dependence of have future problems with alcohol. For this reason, it’s recommended that youths delay starting to drink alcohol for as long as possible.
Youth are also at greater risk from the harmful effects of alcohol because their brains are still developing until their mid 20s. For this reason, drinking alcohol can have negative effects on youth’s brain development. Also, just like adults, youths who regularly consume alcohol above the low-risk drinking guidelines (2 drinks per day or 10 per week for women or 3 per day or 15 per week for men) increase their risk of developing chronic illnesses such as cancer, stroke, heart and liver disease.
The role parents can play
As a parent or guardian, there are many different strategies you can use to help prevent or delay your teen’s use of alcohol.
If youth are going to drink, they tend to do it when adults are not around. So it’s important for you to “be in the know” and know who your teen is with, what they are doing, where they are and if an adult will be present. It’s also important to know how your child is getting home. Another good tip is having your teen check-in throughout the night and making sure they can contact you at all times. And no matter how late it is, if your teen calls for a ride home, offer to pick them up and deal with the consequences in the morning. This will reduce the odds of your teen getting into a car with a driver who has been drinking.
Planning regular one-on-one time and enjoying activities together can help build good parent-child communication. When you decide to talk to your teen about alcohol, take the time to review laws related to underage drinking and drinking and driving, emphasize the short-term risks associated with alcohol (these are of greater concern to youth) and discuss your expectations about your teen’s alcohol consumption. It’s also important to talk about ways to manage peer pressure. For example, consider reminding them that not “everyone drinks”. In fact, 50% of youth between grade 7 and 12 have reported that they don’t consume alcohol.
Consider working with your teen and involving them in the development of rules and consequences – listen to your teens views and discuss options. Ensure your teen has a clear understanding of what is expected. Setting clear expectations helps create an environment where rules are respected. Once you create a list of rules and appropriate consequences, be sure to follow through with those consequences. If not, you will be sending the message that your rules are not important and it is okay for them to be broken.
How much and when a parent chooses to drink alcohol may affect their teen’s decisions about drinking alcohol. Youth learn behaviours by observing adult role models. So be a positive role model for your teen by avoiding having too much to drink in front of them, showing them that you can have a good time without drinking, and avoiding using alcohol as a way to cope with stress, for example.
For many parents, bringing up the subject of alcohol will not be an easy matter. Your teen may try to dodge the discussion, and you yourself may feel unsure about how to proceed. The previous tips can help you make the most of your conversation.
For more information, please visit the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse website : http://www.ccsa.ca/Pages/default.aspx.