In It For Health

Where health and psychology intersect

Posts Tagged ‘alcohol’

The grim reality of spring break

Posted by Dr. Susan on April 3, 2010

It’s too bad that it takes a 17-year old with the prospect for a glowing future to remind us how dangerous spring break can be for high schoolers. When Ohio high school senior Matt James (headed for Notre Dame on a football scholarship), fell from a balcony to his death after drinking too much during spring break in Florida, we all stopped for 5 minutes to shake our heads and those of us with high school students were grateful that it wasn’t our kid.

But the thing is that unless you make the choice to supervise your teen on spring, winter and every other break it could just as easily be your kid! There is no specific type…most kids drink; many get drunk–they just don’t tell their parents. In fact, one national study (conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention) found that nearly 75% of high school students have had one or more alcoholic drinks in their life. That’s any kid–your kid or my kid!

Every teen’s life is worth saving, every teen has a glowing future and should have a chance to make better choices when their brain has developed and along with it, their judgment. Until then, it is the job of the adults–parents, teachers, chaperones, even hotel owners, to make sure that teens are well supervised and kept safe: even from themselves.

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REALLY underage drinking…

Posted by Dr. Susan on October 25, 2008

Some parents have come to accept that their child will experiment with alcohol–and even perhaps drugs–in college, or even the upper high school grades. They hope that it won’t be serious, but they are realistic in recognizing that very few teens abstain completely.  However, this powerful and important study demonstrates that kids who drink or use drugs before they are fifteen-years old, are at much higher risk for substance dependence, sexually transmitted diseases, dropping out of school or acquiring criminal records in adulthood. Also, please note that a full fifty-percent of these kids had NO prior behavior problems!

The take home message: drinking or drugs and teens not a good combination. Be clear about your message of disapproval. Research clearly shows that parents who give their kids a clear message that they will not tolerate drinking or drugs are more likely to have kids that don’t use–especially at a younger age.

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Amethyst update

Posted by Dr. Susan on August 26, 2008

Here’s a great article  from Slate Mag. taking a look at the Amethyst Initiative!

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Should the drinking age be lowered? I don’t think so!

Posted by Dr. Susan on August 19, 2008

A movement, called the Amethyst Initiative, which was begun by university presidents, that has just now come to public awareness, asks that the drinking age be lowered to 18 as a way to end binge drinking on college campuses. If you read  their point of view, you might be think it sounds logical…the premise is that college kids binge drink because drinking is taboo. So if we take away that element, they’ll stop doing binge drinking and begin to sip alcohol responsibly like forty-year olds. Sorry, I don’t buy it! With this logic, perhaps we should just lower the drinking age to 14, so that high-school kids would also stop drinking too much or stop going on binges that land them in hospital ER’s every weekend.

But seriously, let’s not forget that raising the drinking age has drastically reduced the number of teens who drink and the number of drunk driving accidents amongst teens. the Amethyst Initiative is a cop-out! How about if college presidents spend a little more time actually making sure that the students on their campuses are safe, rather than blaming the problem on state regulations. Perhaps they should spend more time educating students, of binge drinking  which has been shown to be effective in reducing binge-drinking, and more time on monitoring the activities of fraternities and other groups that encourage binge drinking.

The reality is that some teens will drink too much when they go to college because it is part of the right of passage of leaving home and exerting their independence. They would do this regardless of the drinking age. However, research shows that the teen brain is not fully developed and doesn’t become so until after twenty-one. The areas of good judgment and impulse control are the last to mature. Lowering the drinking age will only give teens and young adults greater access to alcohol, during a time when they are not yet mature enough to make good decisions. The fact that they are already binge drinking is already proof of this!

As adults we always encourage kids to take responsibility for their own behavior. I encourage university presidents to take this same stand about their universities, rather than blaming the problem on the drinking age.

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eat meals with your kids

Posted by Dr. Susan on July 25, 2008

It’s not really new news, but still, yet another study underscores the importance of eating family meals. This one followed a group of Minnesota kids for five years and found that for girls (not boys, they’re not sure why) eating family meals seemed to innoculate them against cigarette smoking and alcohol and drug use–that is, by the time they were eighteen, the teens who had been eating family meals had a much lower incidence of substance abuse than those who hadn’t. I think that’s darn impressive! The study will be published in the August issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health

I am curious why the findings didn’t hold true for boys, though. My theory is that most boys (and many men) need to be reached with modalities other than talking–which is what family meals imply. For example, perhaps if parents spent equal amounts of time playing ball, or even video games, with their sons, it would innoculate them against substance abuse, the way family meals do for girls. If you have a son, try it and report back to me!

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Should we be drinking alcohol with our teens?

Posted by Dr. Susan on June 20, 2008

I found this Op Ed type article on the TIME website interesting and in need of addressing. The author–and some of the experts he interviews believe that the best way to curb teen drinking is for parents to drink with their kids, thereby demystifying the idea of alcohol. The theory continues that once teens don’t believe that there is a taboo attached to drinking, they will not feel the need to binge drink, or drink as often.  While it’s a well-written piece I have a big problem with this premise, regardless of the fairly one-sided research that the author sites.

It is very clear to me from my nearly twenty years of work with thousands of teens that if their parents condone alcohol drinking, no matter how scientifically they do it–with sips beginning at 4-years old etc–it gives the teen the idea that it is fine for them to drink elsewhere–with friends in particular, and that their parents won’t be upset.

Furthermore, drinking a small amount with a parent does not fall in the same category, serve the same purpose or even register as THE SAME ACTIVITY as drinking with friends–which teens do specifically to get drunk for any number of reasons. The fact that their parents have allowed them to get used to the taste of alcohol simply escalates their ability to get drunk at an earlier age because they don’t have to go through that process first.

Alcohol is also a gateway to other substance use–marijuana and other drugs. The younger a teen starts drinking, the more likely he or she is to move onto other substances. In addition, the teen brain has not yet matured. Teens are impulsive and don’t always make good decisions–this isn’t every single kid of course, or in every situation. But alcohol doesn’t help. The longer a teen waits to drink, the longer his or her brain to has mature. As far as I’m concerned, every six months is a little closer to maturity, to better imulse control, to better decision making.

What’s more teens don’t necessarily understand the rules the way you may think they do. You may believe you’re communicating that it’s okay for them to drink a little bit with you. They may hear that it’s fine for them to drink at a house party when their friend’s parent is upstairs sleeping–after all a parent is around, what’s the difference. The boundaries become too blurred for you to sort them out and you didn’t even realize it was happening.

So, do I think you should be drinking with your kids? NO, I think it’s a bad decision, that it represents irresponsible parenting and mixed messages. Most parents have no clue what their kids are doing when they aren’t home. What’s most important is that your kids know that you do not want them drinking. So be there to drop them off and pick them up–or at least be awake when they come home–at the end of the night. Talk to them, meet their friends. That’s much more important than worrying about sips of wine when they are still practically babies and then giving them glasses of the stuff as they get older only to increase the possibilty of them becoming alcoholics by the time they are thirteen.

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Teens benefit from 12-step programs

Posted by Dr. Susan on June 13, 2008

A fascinating and I think important study finds that teenagers will benefit from attending Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, much like their adult counterparts. There has not been a great deal of research on the importance of these programs for teenagers, but as the study suggests, peer groups are important for teens, and so these programs offer new peer groups. My own experience working with many, many teens with substance abuse difficulites over many years is that I have always referred them to AA or NA and found these to be of critical value in my treatment with kids. Aside from the support that a teen gains and the feeling that they are not alone in their struggle, they very often have to give up their entire social circle in order to give up the substance. This is extremely difficult. By going to meetings, they can instantly form a new social circle and don’t have to be alone without friends. This can be pivotal in a teen’s recovery.

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