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Alcohol and Teens-- "It's Not a Rite of Passage"

Monday, April 9, 2018

Chances are alcohol has affected your life in some way or another. Maybe it is you, a spouse, a child, a friend, a colleague. Alcohol is pervasive in our society and often considered part of growing up. April is Alcohol Awareness Month and this year’s theme is Changing Attitudes – It’s Not a ‘Rite of Passage’. The National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence wants to educate people about the treatment and prevention of alcoholism, particularly among our youth, and the important role that parents can play in giving kids a better understanding of the impact that alcohol can have on their lives.

Alcohol and drug use by young people is extremely dangerous--both to themselves and to society--and is directly associated with traffic fatalities, violence, suicide, educational failure, alcohol overdose, unsafe sex and other problem behaviors, even for those who may never develop a dependence or addiction. Parents often forgive underage drinking as a “rite of passage.”  They can sit back and hope for the best or they can take an active role in learning about alcohol and drugs and help their kids do the same. 

Talking with teens about drinking and drugs can be daunting, uncomfortable, and sometimes combative. However, any discomfort for parents is well worth it.  Research has shown that kids who have conversations with their parents and learn a lot about the dangers of alcohol and drug use are 50 percent less likely to use these substances than those who do not have such conversations.  In fostering “changing attitudes”, parents can help kids understand that drinking isn’t a way to feel or be independent, “cool,” or to fit in socially.  Young people can learn that alcohol is not necessary for having a good time and non-use of alcohol is a healthy and viable option. 

“Alcohol and drug use is a very risky business for young people,” says Andrew Pucher, President and CEO of NCADD, “and parents can make a difference. The longer children delay drinking and drug use, the less likely they are to develop any problems associated with it. That’s why it is so important to help your child make smart decisions about alcohol and drugs.” 

American Addictions Centers offers the following tips for parents as they talk with their teens about drugs and alcohol.

1. Set your terms

Before even having the discussion, parents should tell their teens that they have something important they would like to talk to them about, and ask them when they would like to have this conversation. The last thing parents want to do is catch their children off-guard when they are busy and are less likely to want to have this important talk. If teens set the time and place for the discussion, there is a good chance they will be more actively engaged.

2. Avoid accusations

Unless parents have hard evidence that their children are drinking or abusing drugs, they should not start the conversation by confronting them with demands, assumptions and accusations. Instead, they should start by asking their kids what they know about drugs and what may be happening in their schools and social circles. Coming from a place of inquisitiveness may make it less likely for teens to be defensive or lie. If parents seem open and comfortable, so will their children.

3. Act early

Sixty-two percent of teens who said that they drank reported they had their first drink before the age of 15 – not including simply taking a sip. This is why it is best for parents to talk to their kids about drugs and drinking around age 12, 13 or 14, since it is likely they will already have been offered substances by then.

4. Don’t use scare tactics

While it is important for parents to tell children that drug and alcohol use can come with dire consequences, it may be a good idea to focus on the positives, too. For example, they can explain that by avoiding substances and effectively managing issues such as peer pressure, it might make it easier for them to benefit from more important things like getting into a good college or performing well in sports and other extracurricular activities.

5. Call a professional

If parents truly find that they cannot have this conversation with their children themselves, it’s best to call a professional. A family counselor can sit with parents and children and make sure they are having heartfelt and productive discussions, rather than just sitting in awkward silences or getting into a fight that will cause more harm to their relationship than good.

For more information about alcohol and drug abuse and local resources, go to or call Casa-Trinity at (585)991-5012 (Geneseo) or (585)335-5052 (Dansville). 

Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at UR Medicine Noyes Health in Dansville, NY. If you have questions or ideas for future articles, contact Lorraine at or (585) 335-4327. 

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Mary Sue Dehn

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