III. When the Teen Drinker Becomes the Adult Alcoholic
Kids who start drinking at an early age are four times as likely to become an alcoholic in adulthood. (U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services) Kids who drink before the age of 16 are also more likely to experience health-related problems, mental problems, and are more likely to attempt suicide. They can become isolated from friends, friends who once enjoyed their partying ways, but not withdraw from them due to their total consumption in alcohol. This is partly due to their personality changes and typical “ups and downs” that occur due to their dependency on it.
Alcohol is the most widely abused drug among teens and adolescents. It is also the most widely abused drug among adults. Alcoholism knows no favorites. Why some get addicted to it, and some do not still remains a mystery.
One thing is for sure: Alcohol is dangerous. It is classed as a “depressant,” which means it has depressive properties, such as the class of barbiturates does, but unlike barbiturates, it can take effect and do its damage in a relatively short period of time. Not only is it illegal for anyone under 21 to drink it; it is a crime for an adult to offer anyone underage alcohol, punishable by a fine and/or a jail term.
So we know alcohol is a drug; a dangerous drug that is easily addictive. The person addicted to alcohol starts out slowly dependent in a mental way, in that they think they need it to calm themselves down, to feel less inhibited, and for other reasons. But, over time, they begin to depend upon it more and more, until it becomes a physical dependency, which occurs in the latter stages. By this time, the person is chemically dependent and must usually seek help to break free of its grasp.
Tips for Parents on Dealing with Teens & Alcohol
So how can parents guard their young person from abusing alcohol and becoming potentially addicted to its effects? Here are some important factors to keep in mind:
1) Remember that alcohol is illegal until a child reaches the age of 21. The reason for this is that their brain is not fully developed until then and it can actually lower a child’s IQ. In addition, it may also damage other vital systems, such as their liver or other organs or even cause heart arrhythmias.
2) Lock up the liquor cabinet. In your own house, you can control the intake of alcohol of young people by simply not allowing it in the first place. However, if there is alcohol in the house, make sure you model responsible drinking habits such as not over-indulging and never driving while under the influence. Talk to your kids about appropriate drinking habits of adults.
3) Watch who their friends are and their habits. Protect your child by telling them never to get into a car if one of their friends has been drinking. Even though there are now “sensor apps” which can measure the approximate amount of alcohol in a person’s system, it cannot tell exactly, so it’s better not to risk it. Also remind them that if they have friends who are drinking under the age of 21, it is an illegal act and they could be considered an accomplice or a material witness, in the event of a wreck or mishap.
4) Teach them about all the bad things that can happen involving alcohol: accidents, foolish behavior, loss of inhibitions, loss of driver’s license, higher insurance rates, and such like. Use examples they will care about because it will restrict their freedoms. Show them that you practice what you preach by abstaining from overindulgence with alcohol yourself. Be the example, not the problem.
5) Remind them that the road to dependency is shorter than they think, and refer to some example you know of (such as a celebrity or friend of the family), so that it becomes real to them. Reward them for their commitment to stay away from alcohol, and teach them there are many other things they can enjoy and wholesome activities they can participate in if they choose to abstain.
The best medicine for anything is prevention. We are not proposing that everyone demand absolute abstinence from alcohol, but remember that if you never take a drink you can NEVER become an alcoholic. More and more young people are engaging in overdrinking and abuse of alcohol, despite the legal restrictions. Teen and young adult alcohol dependency is on the rise due to that very fact. Remember, “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” Teach your child early to abstain and focus on a healthier lifestyle instead. Teach them that they will live fuller, healthier, happier lives if they do not indulge in the world’s most abused but last legal drug.