April is Alcohol Awareness Month
Since 1987, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) has designated April as the month to increase awareness and understanding about alcoholism and alcohol-related issues. This year’s theme is “Talk Early, Talk Often: Parents Can Make a Difference in Teen Alcohol Use.”
Although it may be difficult to have that conversation with your children, the risk of not doing so can have devastating consequences. Andrew Puncher, president of NCADD, says that “alcohol and drug use is very risky business for young people.” He adds that the longer youth can delay use of alcohol and drugs, the less likely they are to have problems related to substance abuse.
In 2007, the Surgeon General issued a Call to Action in response to the potential risk and danger of underage drinking, which is defined as the use of alcohol by anyone under the age of 21. One of the greatest risks with use of alcohol by youth is that it can negatively impact development in areas of the brain that are responsible for learning and memory (National Institute of Health).
These impairments can adversely affect academic as well as occupational functioning in youth that abuse alcohol. There is also increased risk for motor vehicle accidents, violence (suicide, homicide, and assault), sexual assault, risky sex and sexually transmitted diseases.
Binge drinking, defined as drinking more than five alcoholic drinks in a row, in youth was linked to over 4,300 deaths and 189,000 emergency room visits in 2010 (cdc.gov). It is estimated that there are 59.7 million binge drinkers and 23.9 million users of illicit drugs for those ages 12 and up.
In 2010, the Department of Health and Human Services launched Healthy People 2020 Initiative with priorities and goals to be met by 2020. Reduction of alcohol and illicit drug use among youth are two of the nation’s highest prevention priorities within the National Healthy People 2020 initiative in addition to the goals below:
• Attain high-quality, longer lives free of preventable disease, disability, injury, and premature death.
• Achieve health equity, eliminate disparities, and improve the health of all groups.
• Create social and physical environments that promote good health for all.
• Promote quality of life, healthy development, and healthy behaviors across all life stages.
With underage drinking, a whole host of physical, social, spiritual, financial and environmental challenges can occur that may impact the youth across their lifespan. There are a number of things that parents can do to prevent or delay the use of alcohol by their children.
In order to maintain open communication, it is important to talk with your children often about their daily activities. They are more likely to come to you when they struggle if you have a relationship that fosters open communication.
Have the conversation about the dangers of alcohol and illicit drug abuse. One of the most important things a parent can do is be a good role model for their children. Consider the way you act and the things you say in front of your child. It is through your actions that children learn what responsible and acceptable behavior is.
In order to determine if you are being a responsible role model, ask yourself the following questions:
• Do I drink safely and sociably?
• Do I drink out of habit, or do I choose to drink or not based on the occasion?
• Do I expose my teen to occasions where adults are drinking heavily?
• Has my teen seen me drunk to the point where I am not acting like my usual self?
• Does my drinking impact on my ability to perform everyday tasks?
Taking the attitude of “do what I say, not what I do” is unlikely to have the desired impact on your child’s behaviors and choices. You have to do both — you have to say the right thing and do the right thing to help youth become responsible and healthy adults.
For more information about alcohol or drug abuse, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (samhsa.gov) via Internet or by phone at 1-800-662-HELP (4357), or contact Dr. Golden or your primary care provider at NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center, 1313 Penn Avenue North, Minneapolis, MN 55411.
Deirdre Annice Golden, Ph.D., LP, is director of Behavioral Health for NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center Behavioral Health Clinic, 1313 Penn Ave. N. She welcomes reader responses to Deirdre.Golden@co.hennepin.mn.us, or call 612-543-2705.