Given the prevalence of alcohol abuse in the adult population, it makes sense that we should focus on early prevention efforts aimed at young people. In today’s world, kids are subjected to a number of societal pressures—from advertising, portrayal in popular culture and entertainment, to feeling the need to fit in with peers and social groups. In fact, many adolescents point to peer pressure as a potential motivation for alcohol use.1 It can be a struggle to combat the flood of these influences, however, there are many things that parents can do to help keep their children safe from the dangers of alcohol.
Providing the Right Message
To be sure, turning a bling eye to or otherwise ignoring the issue will do little to change any emerging problematic drinking behaviors. To a great extent, teens look to parents and other authority figures in modeling their own behaviors.2,3 If clear guidelines for what is acceptable in your home are set forth early on, parents have taken the first step in preventing problem behavior such as drinking. Additionally, your teen needs to know that questions they have about the issue can be raised without fear of retribution or suspicion.2,3
There are many common misperceptions about alcohol and drinking that our youth may have. Armed with knowledge about the issues themselves, parents can do much to prevent an alcohol problem from starting simply by providing honest answers to these questions.2,3 Answers about the effects of alcohol use can be provided, and followed up with the expectation that your teen abstain from such dangerous activities. Many children wish to not disappoint their parents and, with clear guidelines, will aim to avoid alcohol altogether.2,3
If clear guidelines for what is acceptable in your home are set forth early on, parents have taken the first step in preventing problem behavior such as drinking.
The perceived risks that a substance poses can have a large influence on teen drug and alcohol use. Young people may be less likely to use substances, at least in certain amounts or frequencies, based on how much harm they believe the substance can cause them.4 For example, in 2013, 62.5% of youths aged 12 to 17 perceived great risks in having 4 or 5 drinks nearly every day—of course, that means that 37.5% did not perceive a great risk.4
Alcohol also isn’t perceived to be as harmful as other substances such as heroin and cocaine.4
Credit: Partnership for Drug-Free Kids
Keeping Tabs on Your Teen
A parent with little insight as to the whereabouts and activities of their child runs the risk of encountering problems.
Raising children is no easy task. With so many variables—parenting style, temperament of your child, as well as the peer group that they find themselves surrounded by—it’s impossible to control for everything.5 Furthermore, it might be counterproductive to attempt to raise a child in a completely protected environment. Still, a parent with little insight as to the whereabouts and activities of their child runs the risk of encountering problems.
Even trustworthy teens are bound to find themselves in some questionable situations over the course of their development towards adulthood. Being vigilant isn’t necessarily being overprotective. Knowing the location, company, and activity of your family members throughout the course of the day can help keep them safe.6 The advent of cell phones makes it easier than ever to check up on your teen. Additionally, straying from a perceived routine in terms of when you are at the house yourself might go far in preventing a teen from feeling complacent that they are alone and able to do whatever they please. For parents who are unable to be at home after school has let out due to work obligations, having other family members or neighbors keep a helpful eye on a child—even if from a distance—can make a big difference in preventing adolescent and teen alcohol abuse.
Previously, we spoke of putting forth the right message about alcohol abuse to your child. An important counterpart to establishing guidelines for a teen is to follow up by enforcing these rules.6 Teenagers need to know that there will be consistently meted out consequences for any transgressions to these rules. Guidelines should be established for what type of consequence is warranted. At one extreme is the threat of legal consequences since alcohol abuse for minors is inherently unlawful.
On a more personal level, there are numbers of frighteningly close-to-home consequences of alcohol abuse that can be reiterated to a teen. In fact, apprehension about severe health consequences, such as the following, in relation to alcohol abuse might by the deciding factor in a teen avoiding alcohol use altogether:7
- School problems including poor and failing grades.
- Social problems including fighting and lack or participation in activities.
- Legal problems including arrest for driving or hurting someone while intoxicated.
- Physical and sexual assault.
- Alcohol-related car crashes and other unintentional injuries including burns and drowning..
- Death from alcohol poisoning.
Whatever may occur, it is imperative that a blind eye is not turned on any evidence of alcohol use or abuse by your adolescent or teenager. A child who escapes consequences of his or her actions is apt to repeat them.
Be Open With Your Teen
Communication is the Key
It is important to provide an environment for your teen in which they feel safe coming to you with any questions about alcohol.
The questions could arise merely from curiosity, or they could point to a deeper issue a child might be facing in terms of pressures from school, work and/or peers and how those pressures might translate into drinking behavior or alcohol use. Avoiding these questions could be the worst thing you could do—providing your teen with no tools to combat the pressures to drink, or any reasonable ways to react to situations they may find themselves in where alcohol is present.3
Do not be afraid to recount your own experiences or even problems with alcohol that you may have encountered when you were their age. Stories of people you know who started drinking in high school, who have suffered or died from alcohol-related accidents, or the negative health effects of long-standing alcohol abuse can be told to reinforce the fact that even they aren’t immune to the ill effects of alcohol. Communication is a cornerstone to preventing alcohol abuse.
Ethanol, or alcohol, is abused more than any other drug among those engaged in treatment, as Recovery Brands revealed with a 2017 survey. Out of all the survey responses, nearly 70% of people went to treatment to get help with a drinking problem, and a shocking 52.87% of respondents sought the most treatment for alcohol abuse. Despite the wide variety of abused substances individuals seek treatment for, ethanol seems to cause the most widespread damage. However, you are only one call away from getting help. Talk with our treatment support specialists at 1-888-744-0069 to discuss your program options and start your recovery today.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2017). Underage Drinking.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2018). Why You Should Talk With Your Child About Alcohol and Other Drugs.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2009). Make a Difference: Talk to Your Child About Alcohol- Parents.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2014). Results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings, NSDUH Series H-48, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 14-4863. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens. (2019). Alcohol.
- Komro, K., Toomey, T.L. (2002). Strategies to Prevent Underage Drinking. Alcohol Research & Health, 26(1), 5-14.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Fact Sheets-Underage Drinking.