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Alcohol Abuse Prevention

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, alcohol’s 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.It can be a struggle to combat the flood of these influences, but 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 given in the expectation that your teen abstains from dangerous drinking. Many children wish to not disappoint their parents and, with clear guidelines, will aim to avoid alcohol altogether.2,3

The perceived risks that a substance poses can have a large influence on teen alcohol and drug misuse. 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

Keeping Tabs on Your Teen

Raising children is no easy task. With so many variables at play—your parenting style, the temperament of your child, as well as the peer group that they find themselves surrounded by—it’s impossible to control everything.5 Furthermore, it might be counterproductive to attempt to raise a child in a completely protected environment. Still, a parent with little insight into 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 that they are 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.

Rule Enforcement

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

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. These pressures may translate into drinking behavior or alcohol use. Avoiding these questions could be the worst thing you could do—you would be providing your teen with no tools to combat the pressures to drink or reasonable ways they could 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 or who have suffered or died from alcohol-related accidents, or of 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 misuse.

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