Your Child and Drugs
Children are challenged at younger ages
than ever before to try drugs. Use of tobacco, marijuana, and cocaine are
serious problems. However, one of the most abused drugs in our society is
alcohol. Alcohol is a drug because it acts as a depressant on the nervous system
and is very addictive. Though it's illegal for people under age 21 to drink, we
all know that most teenagers are no strangers to alcohol. Many of them are
introduced to alcohol during childhood.
1 out of 5 fifth graders have been drunk.
out of 10 sixth graders say there is pressure from other students to drink.
80% of high school seniors report having used alcohol.
Alcohol is often the first drug that young
people try. Some parents may breathe a sigh of relief when they find out their
teen is "only" drinking alcohol. Since alcohol is legal and found in
most American homes, parents may think it isn't dangerous. Not true. Alcohol can
be very harmful.
Childhood drinking begins early, often
between 11 and 13 years of age, and sometimes even younger. Alcohol is often
called a "gateway drug." When young people like the feeling they get
from alcohol, they may be interested in trying other drugs later. This can lead
to multiple drug use, which is very dangerous. The use of alcohol, by itself or
with other drugs, can harm your child's normal growth and development.
Even if a teenager only drinks
occasionally, intoxicated behavior can be lethal. Just one drink can impair
decision making and slow down reaction time in any situation. Alcohol is linked
with a variety of risky behaviors, such as:
Crime and serious
Early sexual activity, multiple
partners, sexually transmitted diseases including AIDS, and unintended teenage
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Drinking
during pregnancy can cause a baby to be born with major birth defects. No one
knows exactly how much alcohol is too much during pregnancy, but the more a
mother drinks, the greater the risk to her baby.
Drunk driving. It is the leading
cause of death for young adults, aged 15 to 24 years. In one study, an estimated
6% to 14% of drivers under 21 years of age who were stopped at roadside
checkpoints had been drinking. This age-group makes up only one fifth of the
licensed drivers in the United States, yet they are involved in almost half of
all fatal car crashes.
Young people drink alcohol for a variety
The same pattern of use and abuse exists
for alcohol as with other drugs such as marijuana or cocaine. Experts have noted
the following stages of alcohol use:
Experimenting with alcohol. There
may be strong peer pressure to use alcohol "just for fun" and to be
part of the group. Most use happens on weekends. There often is no change in
behavior between uses.
Actively seeking alcohol. Alcohol
is used to produce good feelings during times of stress. Usage occurs during the
week. Schoolwork may suffer. Changes in behavior may include:
Keep in mind that some of these symptoms
occur from time to time in normal, nonalcohol-using teens, and none alone is
proof of alcohol or drug use. However, a combination of any of the above
symptoms may signal a problem.
Preoccupation with alcohol. There is an almost total loss of control
over the use of alcohol. Attempts to limit alcohol use at this stage can cause
withdrawal symptoms of depression, moodiness, and irritability. Alcoholic
beverages may disappear from the home. There is a danger of turning to other
drugs or stronger forms of liquor. Family possessions may also disappear as the
alcohol user seeks money to support his habit. There may be trouble with the law
for these same reasons.
Most adolescents never move beyond the
first stage of alcohol use. Whether they do or not depends for the most part on
their personality, their family, and their community. For those who do move to
the advanced stages, the entire process can take months or years. Many young
people and adults receive help too late. This is why early detection is so
As with any disease, prevention is the
best treatment. Parents must learn the facts about teen alcohol use and abuse to
help their children remain alcohol free.
Parents should set a good example at home
by limiting their own use of alcohol and other drugs. Parents who don't drink
should be aware that this alone will not guarantee their children and teenagers
won't use alcohol. Parents who are alcoholics or problem drinkers place their
children at increased risk of alcohol dependence. Studies suggest that
alcoholism may run in the family. One out of 5 young adults with an alcoholic
parent is likely to become an alcoholic too.
Education about alcohol should begin
early. Parents can help their children resist alcohol use in these ways:
Give your child a sense of confidence.
This is the best defense against peer pressure. Build your child's self-esteem
with praise and avoid frequent criticism.
Listen to what your child says. Pay
attention, and be helpful during periods of loneliness or doubt.
Know who your child's friends are
and make a point to get to know them
Provide parental supervision. Don't
allow your teen to attend parties where alcohol is being served. Insist that a
parent be present at parties to supervise. Contact other parents to arrange
alcohol-free social events.
Offer a "free call home."
Drinking and driving may lead to death. Make sure your child knows not to ride
with a driver who has been drinking. Let him know that he can call home without
fear of consequences that night. Discuss the incident the next day.
Help your child learn to handle strong
emotions and feelings. Model ways to control stress, pain, or tension.
Talk about things that are important
issues for your child, including alcohol, drugs, and the need for peer-group
Encourage enjoyable and worthwhile
outside things to do; avoid turning leisure time into chores.
Join your child in learning all you can
about preventing alcohol abuse. Programs offered in schools, churches, and
youth groups can help you both learn more about alcohol abuse.
Your pediatrician understands that good
communication between parents and children is one of the best ways to prevent
alcohol use. If talking with your teenager about alcohol is difficult, your
pediatrician may be able to help open the lines of communication. If you suspect
your child is using alcohol or any other drug, ask your pediatrician for advice
Parents who choose to use alcohol must be
careful how it is used in the home. Having a drink should never be shown as a
way to cope with problems. Don't drink in unsafe conditions –- driving the
car, mowing the lawn, using the stove, etc. Don't encourage your child to drink
or to join you in having a drink. Never make jokes about getting drunk; make
sure that your children understand that it is neither funny nor acceptable. Show
your children that there are many ways to have fun without alcohol. Happy
occasions and special events don't have to include drinking.
Young people today are surrounded by
messages in the media that drinking alcohol is normal, desirable, and harmless.
Alcohol companies spend billions of dollars every year on advertising and
promoting their products on TV, in movies and magazines, on billboards, and at
sporting events. In fact, alcohol products are among the most advertised
products in the nation. Young people are the primary targets of many of these
Alcohol companies and advertisers never
mention the dangers of alcoholism, drinking and driving, or Fetal Alcohol
Syndrome. Most ads show drinkers as healthy, energetic, sexy, and successful.
Help your teenager understand the difference between these misleading messages
in advertising and the truth about the dangers of drinking.
Talk about ads with your
child and help them to understand the real messages being conveyed.
Teach your kids to be careful, questioning
Make sure the TV shows and movies your
child watches do not glamorize the use of alcohol.
Do not allow your child to wear T-shirts,
jackets, or hats that promote alcohol products.
Talk to administrators at your teen's
school about starting a media education program.
Source: American Association of Pediatrics