Authored by Jodi Rushton, SSW, Case Manager, Substance Use Prevention & Outreach
Some things that we can be sure of this time of year is that the holidays will be filled with lots of presents, food, parties, and unfortunately, deadly myths about teenage drinking. Being aware of these – and refusing to buy into them – is vital for any parent wanting to keep their teens as healthy and happy as possible. It may be tempting to allow your teen that “one sip” at your family Christmas party, but keep in mind that research points to the high probability that that “one sip” may lead to a myriad of physical, emotional and mental health problems later down the road. Arming yourself with the facts of teen alcohol use is essential to keep your teen healthy, safe and able to enjoy the holidays for many years to come.
One pernicious myth is that allowing your child to drink alcohol with you is a good way to ensure that they won’t do it inappropriately, without supervision, to excess, etc. One reason why this myth is so dangerous is that your teen’s brain is still in crucial stages of development and drinking alcohol at an early age can cause irreversible brain damage. The two major areas of their brain which can be damaged are the hippocampus – responsible for learning and memory – and the prefrontal cortex – responsible for planning, judgment, decision making and impulse control. Much of the damage done to the brain is irreversible meaning your teen could develop behavioral, emotional, mental and psychological issues that will last a lifetime. Ultimately this translates into your teen being at a serious disadvantage when it comes to managing any aspect of adulthood, from relationships to careers.
Another thing to keep in mind is that alcohol can seriously damage the pleasure-reward system of your teen’s brain, which means that over time they will no longer find joy or pleasure in normal activities, or even their most cherished activities. To experience the same rush which drinking alcohol provides they will have to drink more and more, which will not just make them addicted, but can also lead to severe behavioral and personality changes. Instead of being excited for that annual family reunion or camping and fishing trip, your teen could be obsessed with and fixated on where they will get their next high. Alcohol is also a serious gateway drug with alarming statistics showing that a high percentage of marijuana, heroin and meth users started by drinking alcohol when they were younger.
Most important of all, research shows that your setting of boundaries, consistent monitoring, bonding, and express disapproval of your teen drinking, carries far more influence in your child’s decision to drink than peer pressure does. Never underestimate the power of communicating to your teen on a regular basis about the danger of alcohol use, why waiting until their 21 to drink matters, and how your love and concern for their well-being is at the heart of your strict rules and expectations about alcohol use. Before you pass your drink to your teen this holiday season remember that the dangers of doing so are not worth it, and that your child’s ability to grow into a healthy, happy and functioning adult, is the greatest gift you could ever give them.
To delve deeper into the research and statistics mentioned in this article, and for more suggestions and support for keeping your teen sober, please visit www.parentsempowered.org. If you are looking for prevention classes or need substance abuse treatment please call Salt Lake County Youth Services at 385-468-4500.