Episode 12 of The Sobriety :60 drops on Red Ribbon Week, a week where the dangers of adolescent drug use are front and center. There isn’t one, single, age group of people more affected by alcohol than young people. Why is this risky co-called ‘rite of passage’ a big deal? For centuries teens have been lured to that first drink by curiosity, kicks, or aping what they see at home. New studies identify a few things about the harm of the words, “what’s one gonna hurt?”
First, we have on American blinders to the problem of drinking that it’s only a problem if you’re addicted or driving. However, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), car wrecks ARE the leading cause of alcohol-related deaths for underage drinkers, but two of three alcohol-related deaths for those under 20 are from OTHER causes like violence, suicide and alcohol poisoning. (See related article, Two of three teen alcohol deaths not highway related.)
Second, the brain goes through dynamic change during adolescence. Frontal lobe development – this is the area responsible for behaviors – continues until around age 25. Damage from alcohol in the teens can be irreversible. The hippocampus – think memory and learning – suffers the worst alcohol-related damage and can be 10 percent smaller in those who drink more in their teens and early 20’s.
Third, adolescents need only drink half as much as adults to suffer the same negative learning and memory effects.
Fourth, we have a heroin EPIdemic because we have an alcohol PANdemic. Some kids can’t get what they want from alcohol (a sedative) so they move to tougher sedation like opiates. Alcohol is the gateway drug. If you ask, “How many heroin deaths are alcohol-related?” The answer is: ‘They all are. Originally.’
Finally, the numbers work against teens. According to the Journal of Substance Abuse, for those who start drinking AFTER age 21 … when it’s legal but still not safe … seven percent will have the disease of alcoholism. The number jumps to 40 percent for those who start at age 15.
The average age of first use in the U.S.: Twelve.
Parental involvement does more to discourage this than the school or community can. (See Teen drinking best thwarted by parents.) Parents play the first, leading, and most influential role in shaping the decisions their children make when it comes to alcohol. Not their peers: Their parents.
You cannot teach your kids HOW to drink. You CAN teach them NOT to drink.