Changing Attitudes: Underage drinking is not a ‘rite of passage’
The month of April is designated as national Alcohol Awareness Month, and Mountain Family Health Centers would like to provide education on the dangers of underage drinking and drug use and disavow the notion that participation in these behaviors is a “rite of passage” for youth.
According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), nationally, alcohol and drugs are the leading causes of crime among youth and the chief factors in teenage suicide, and more than 23 million people over the age of 12 are addicted to alcohol and other drugs.
Local statistics show high rates of alcohol and drug use among our youth. The 2015 Healthy Kids Survey of high school students showed much greater rates of use in our region than in the state of Colorado:
• 40 percent reported drinking alcohol in the past 30 days versus 30 percent in the state
• 24 percent reported binge drinking (>5 drinks in a row) in the past 30 days versus 17 percent statewide
• 16 percent drank alcohol before the age of 13
• 25 percent used marijuana in the past 30 days versus 21 percent statewide
Like adults, young people drink alcohol for different reasons, which are often related to feelings or the difficulties of everyday life. Young people may drink to check out from family problems or issues with school and grades; to cope with loneliness, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety disorders and other mental health issues; to deal with the pressures of everyday social situations; to change their image or to fit in; or to gain confidence or lose inhibitions.
As youth get older and alcohol and drugs enter the picture, parents are faced with a unique set of challenges. Many forgive underage drinking as a “rite of passage,” sitting back and hoping their children will “get through it.” However, Mountain Family suggests parents change this attitude and take an active role in learning about alcohol and drugs and help their children do the same.
It is important to take advantage of teachable moments when parents and other adults can help youth learn about underage drinking and drug use. While parents can have “the big talk,” equally, if not more importantly, they can be there for their children when these issues come up. Youth of all ages are exposed via television, movies and social media, or they may want to discuss their friends including what they are saying and their alcohol or drug use.
The NCADD offers these guidelines for parents for talking about alcohol and drug use:
Listen before you talk: for kids, knowing someone is really listening is most important. Ask open-ended questions. Be involved. Be honest and open. Be positive: talking about these issues can build bridges rather than walls. And remember, addiction is a chronic, progressive disease that can be linked to family history and genetics. So, if you there is a family history of problems, be matter-of-fact about it, as one would be with any other chronic disease, such as heart disease, diabetes or cancer.
“Alcohol and drug use is a very risky business for young people,” says Andrew Pucher, President and Chief Executive Officer of NCADD, “and parents can make a difference. The longer children delay drinking and drug use, the less likely they are to develop problems associated with it. That’s why it is so important to help your child make smart decisions about alcohol and drug use.”
To foster a change in attitude, parents can help their children understand drinking is not a rite of passage. It is not a way to feel or be independent, “cool” or fit in socially. Young people can learn alcohol is not necessary for having a good time. Non-use of alcohol is a healthy and viable option and we can all learn to respect another person’s decision not to drink alcohol.
This April, Mountain Family Health Centers encourages parents to speak to their children early and often about alcohol and other drugs. Mountain Family also urges our entire community to reach out to those who are most vulnerable and help our next generation avoid the many problems underage alcohol and drug use can bring.
If are concerned about your child’s, your own or another’s alcohol or drug use, there are many resources available to you in our community. A place to start is talking with your primary care provider, or if you do not have one, call Mountain Family at 970-945-2840 or visit www.mountainfamily.org. For more information about Alcohol Awareness Month, contact NCADD at www.ncadd.org.
Carolyn Hardin is a development consultant for Mountain Family Health Centers and other nonprofits, with 30 years of experience in public health and human services in the Roaring Fork Valley. She can be reached at CHardin@mountainfamily.org.