Parents can reduce teen alcohol use

Over 80 percent of young people ages 10-18 say their parents are the leading influence on their decision to drink or not drink. In fact, kids themselves say that losing their parents’ trust and respect are the most important reason to not use alcohol, tobacco or other drugs. Keeping the lines of communication open is key to the parent-teen relationship. There is a lot of new research on underage drinking, and underlying issues that can impact a young person’s choice to use.

Research has shown that youth who begin drinking before the age of 15 are five times more likely to develop alcohol dependence or abuse alcohol later in life, than those who begin drinking at or after age 21.

Alcohol use by persons under age 21 is a major public health problem. Alcohol is the most commonly used and abused drug among youth in the United States. It is responsible for more than 4,300 annual deaths among underage youth.

People whose biological relatives are alcoholics are four times more likely to become addicted if they choose to use alcohol. It is important to talk with your kids if they are at a higher risk for addiction. Check out wait21.org. It helps you understand addiction in under four minutes.

Trying to determine if your child is using alcohol or other drugs can be difficult, because changes in mood, attitude, temper, sleeping habits and hobbies are typical in the teen years. Ask yourself if your child is doing well in school, getting along with friends and taking part in sports or other activities.

Some signs and symptoms to look for include: changes in friends, negative changes in schoolwork, missing school, declining grades, secrecy about possessions, forgetfulness, slurred speech, lack of coordination, changes in clothing choices, bottles of eye drops, and new use of mouthwash. Also, look for signs of depression, withdrawal, carelessness with grooming or hostility. If you are concerned, you may want to take your child to the doctor and ask about screening your child for alcohol, tobacco or other drug use.

Prevention is important, and should start at a young age. As parents, we can help develop resilience in our children by teaching them to make wise decisions, role-play how to “say no,” encourage self-expression, promote healthy self-esteem, provide alternative activities, nurture assets in our children and talk with the parents of our kids’ friends.

You can also find many parenting resources on the Parenting Awareness Michigan (PAM) website: preventionnetwork.org/parenting-awareness.aspx including resources on underage drinking prevention.

March is Parent Awareness Month. Parenting Awareness Michigan (PAM) celebrates people raising children and promotes year round education and resources for parents and caregivers. Its mission is to promote parenting awareness, education, and resources- through state outreach and local efforts-emphasizing the importance of effective parenting in nurturing children to become caring and contributing citizens.

Take some time during the month of March to celebrate being a parent. Many people say it is the hardest job you will ever have. It can also be one of the most rewarding jobs!

Editor’s Note: Taryn Mack is the institute director at Copper Country Mental Health.