/blog/awarenessWith April already underway, many are recognizing the 30th annual Alcohol Awareness Month set in place by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD). The efforts of Alcohol Awareness Month began in hopes of reaching the individuals across the United States and educating them on the dangers of drinking. Parents are urged to talk to their teens about alcohol use; this year’s theme is “Talk Early, Talk Often: Parents Can Make a Difference in Teen Alcohol Use.”

Signs and Risk Factors

An estimated 8.7 million teens between the ages of 12-20 have reported consuming alcohol. Teens may participate in drinking alcohol for a number of reasons: peer pressure in social settings, problems at school or home, behavioral health problems or a history of childhood abuse or other trauma. Open communication is especially important when it comes to talking to your teen about alcohol use. Parents should also try to recognize the signs of underage drinking. Things parents can be aware of include:

  • Are your teen’s grades dropping?
  • Is your teen getting into trouble at school?
  • Are they hanging out with new friends that may be acting as a negative influence?
  • Is their interest dropping in subjects they used to find interesting (sports, after-school activities, academics)?
  • Do their clothes smell like alcohol or did you find alcohol hiding in their room?

Making your teen aware of the dangers of drinking is important. The reality of the matter shouldn’t be used to scare them, but to educate them on how to be safe if they are put in situations where alcohol is offered to them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that alcohol is a factor in almost 5,000 deaths each year. These deaths include car crashes, homicides, overdose and suicides.

Drinking often impairs judgement.  This lack of good decision making can lead to engaging in risky behavior such as drinking and driving, unprotected sex, and aggressive behavior. Teens who drink are more likely to be the assailant or the victim of physical or sexual assault.

Health risks are also something to be wary of when talking to your teen about alcohol use. Drinking can inhibit brain development and function — not just when the teen is drinking, but later on in life as well. Research shows that people who begin drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to suffer from more serious, alcohol-related health concerns later in life, including alcohol addiction.

What You Can Do to Prevent Underage Drinking

Aside from talking to your teens about the risks associated with underage drinking, there are other things that you can do as parents to help ensure that your teen doesn’t abuse alcohol.  One of the most important things you can do is be a good role model for your teen. If your teens are in a home where adults drink, make sure that there is responsibility and moderation while drinking.

Being involved in your teen’s life is a great way to keep communication open. If you feel like your teen may not be comfortable being honest about their alcohol use with you, find a family friend, counselor or another adult that both you and your teen feel comfortable with. Make it clear to your teen that whatever is discussed with this adult will remain confidential but if any harmful information may come of it, the family friend or counselor must disclose the information to you.

Teenagers crave independence. Don’t be afraid to let them have it, but set appropriate limits. Set clear rules and penalties that your teen will face if rules are broken.

Talking to Your Teen

Parents can play a huge role in their teen’s attitudes toward drinking. By keeping lines of communication open, not just about alcohol use but in all aspects of your child’s life, teens are less likely to engage in these activities and feel more comfortable talking to you about the pressures they may face. Studies show that children whose parents take the initiative to talk to them about alcohol are 50% less likely to engage in activities where alcohol is available than teens whose parents never had these important conversations with them.

Avoid only having this conversation with your teen once. Keep the dialogue open. Talk early, talk often about teen alcohol use and how it can affect them and their health for the rest of their lives.

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