Apr 21, 2014

Dr. Gellner: So underage drinking, you may not think your child is, but chances are, either your child or their friends, have had a drink by the time they finish high school. That's next on The Scope.

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Dr. Gellner: So is teenage drinking really a problem? Millions of American teenagers drink alcohol. Studies show over half of high school seniors, drink at least once a week, and alcohol is the most common drug used by teenagers. So why is this a special concern for kids in this age group? Well, alcohol can lead to other drug use, alcohol-related traffic crashes are a major cause of death among teens, alcohol increases the risk of death by drowning, suicide, homicide, and teens who drink alcohol are more likely to have sex at earlier ages, to have sex more often, and have unprotected sex, than teens who do not drink. Young people who drink are also more likely to be victims of violent crime, including assault, and rape, you've heard about date rape too; most of the time alcohol is involved with that. Teenagers who begin drinking before they are adults, are much more likely to become dependent on alcohol as adults.
This isn't just something that pediatricians are going to tell you to try and get your kids to not drink alcoholic, these are actually researched facts. So why do kids drink? Some grow up seeing their parents or other adults drinking, some have alcoholic parents, having a parent who is an alcoholic is going to make it a higher risk for the child to be an alcoholic. They see drinking in movies and on TV, and it's really sexy and cool, so they want to do it to because they want to be popular and part of the in-crown. Pressure from friends and classmates who drink, to have your child drink, is also a big concern. It also will help teens reduce anxiety and make them feel more confident, unfortunately it can sometimes even stupider too. So what are the signs that you want to look for if you think your teenager might be drinking?
Ironically, they are very similar to the kind of symptoms you are going to look for if your child is doing drugs. You want to see are the avoiding your family and friends? Are they staying out of school? Cutting classes, are their grades all of a sudden dropping into the toilet? Have they started losing interest in things that they used to enjoy doing? Are they hanging out with a new and older crowd, somebody who's old enough to go buy alcohol for them? Are they having hangover symptoms, constantly tired, extraordinarily cranky, confused, not remembering where they were or what they did? And getting into fights, or arguing constantly with their parents? And let me stress that this is something you want to see, are they doing it more than a normal teenager would? Because yes, those are normal things that normal teenagers are going to do as well, but if it seems way out of proportion, that's the big red flag.
So you might think that with those symptoms that your child is drinking alcohol, but how can you really be sure? The first thing you can ask your child. Chances are if their drinking and they're drinking and they don't want to get caught, they are going to be overly adamant that they are not drinking. As opposed to, "no, why would you think that"; you get, "no, no, not me, why would I do that"? The other thing is check the room for hidden alcohol, check their bags, if you know who their friends are, talk to their friends about it. If you know who your child's friends' parents are, talk to them too, and ask if they've notice anything with your child or their own children. Just things like that to sort of do a little detective work, to see if you can figure out anything that might provide evidence that your child may be seeking some alcohol behind your back. What if you think your teen is drinking? it may be hard for you to admit that your teen has an alcohol problem. There's a lot of people you can talk to, and actually Alcoholics Anonymous, works with teens who want to stop drinking, so you can investigate that and get your child help with people that they can trust. There's a lot of places that have counselors that can help you. Schools a great place to start. School counselors I'm sure, deal with this issue on the high school level, so you can talk to them. Ask your pediatrician for help. There's been plenty of times where I've been asked, hey can you talk to my child about alcohol? I caught him drinking a beer the other day, or I caught my daughter taking some shots the other day, out of our liquor cabinet and I want her to know that, that's not cool until you're of age, can you talk to her? We're happy to talk to them about this.
This is part of anticipatory guidance that we talk about at visits. How can you help your teen to get to where they don't want to drink alcohol in the first place until they're of age? That's hard to do, especially when they get off to college, but if you have a good relationship with your child, they're going to be much less likely to drink. Make it easy for them to talk honestly with you, so if they are drinking, you can have an honest and open discussion about this. And also talk to them about the reasons not to drink. First off, it's illegal! Second off, you know, think about all the bad things that can happen, while you're drinking. And again, keep tabs on what your child is doing. Encourage your child to avoid situations where people are likely to use drugs or alcohol, and talk to them about, "so what would you do if you were in a situation and someone pulled out a beer or joint or something, what would you do"?
Make sure your teenager has a way to get home from a party, and knows he can call home at any time. If there's alcohol there is he's not comfortable, make sure that they can call and say, "Can you come pick me up, there's a bunch of people drinking here"! Or, if he or she's had some alcoholic to drink, let them know, it's okay to call you to come get a ride home, you can go back and get the car later, you don't want them drinking and driving. And remind them to never ride with someone who's been drinking or has drugs. Set a good example regarding your own alcohol use. If you drink alcohol in the home, make sure that your kids know, this is an adult activity, not a child activity, and make sure that you drink responsibly. Don't drink to your sloppy drunk and then your kids are wondering, why are mom and dad acting that way? That's not showing good responsible alcohol use. Another great website to look at is parentsempower.org. You've probably heard about that on the television or the radio, but they do have a lot of really good resources for hearing you talk, when you have some issues with the child who's been using substances. So the bottom line is, kids who may or may not drink, if you get them the good foundation on what your family values are, what your family rules are, what the consequences are, if they do use things that they're not supposed to, you're going to have a much better relationship with your teenager, and that right there, having a good relationship with your child, is the best way to prevent underage drinking.

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