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Alcohol and Your Child: What Parents Need to Know

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One of the most abused drugs in the United States is alcohol. It's also a drug that many people start using at a very young age. Though it?s illegal for people younger than 21 years to drink, many children are introduced to alcohol well before they reach that age. The earlier they begin using alcohol, the higher risk they will have for problems with it later in life. Here is information from the American Academy of Pediatrics to help parents understand the dangers of alcohol and how to prevent alcohol use.

Why parents should worry

Alcohol is often the first drug that young people try. Since alcohol is legal for those older than 21?years and found in most American homes, it?s often easy for children to be around alcohol and its use. Some parents may feel relieved when they find out their teen is ?only? drinking ?alcohol. They may even think it isn?t dangerous. Not true! Alcohol can harm your child?s normal brain growth and development. Also, if young people like the feeling they get from alcohol, they may be interested in trying other drugs as well.

Risks linked to alcohol use

Even if a person drinks alcohol only occasionally, it can play a part in a variety of risky behaviors. Just one drink can impair decision-making and slow down reaction time. Underage drinking is not legal and is also linked to

Why young people drink

Here are some reasons why young people drink.

Stages of alcohol use

The same pattern of use exists for alcohol as with other drugs, such as marijuana or cocaine. The following table shows how experts explain the stages of alcohol use. Keep in mind that even if your child doesn?t meet criteria for substance use disorder (SUD), all underage drinking is risky. For example, binge drinking, at any stage of use, is very dangerous and should not be condoned.

Stage Description
Abstinence The time before an individual has ever used alcohol more than a few sips.
Substance use ?without a disorder Very limited use that does not meet the definition of an SUD. The most common problems associated with adolescent substance use (car crashes, unintentional ?injuries, sexual trauma) can all occur with limited use in teens without an alcohol use disorder.
Mild-moderate SUD Use in high-risk situations, such as when driving or with strangers. Use associated with a problem such as a fight, arrest, or school suspension. Use for emotional ?coping, such as to relieve stress or depression. Defined as meeting 2?5 of the 11 ?criteria for an SUD in DSM-5.*
Severe SUD Loss of control or compulsive drug use associated with neurologic changes in the reward system of the brain. Defined as meeting 6 or more of the 11 criteria for an SUD in DSM-5.*

*Doctors use the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition ) to assist in diagnosing mental disorders, including SUD (substance use disorder).

How can I tell if my child is drinking?

Certain symptoms and behaviors are warning signs for alcohol use. Look for

How to prevent alcohol use

Here are ways parents can help their children resist alcohol use.

Alcohol and the media

No matter how often they hear how dangerous it is to drink alcohol, many young people today still think it?s cool. A big reason for this is the media. Alcohol companies spend billions of dollars every year promoting their products on TV, in movies and magazines, on billboards, and at sporting events. In fact, alcohol products are among the most advertised products in the?nation.

Alcohol ads never mention the dangers, such as alcoholism and drinking and driving, or how it ?affects an unborn infant (fetal alcohol ?syndrome). Most ads show drinkers as healthy, energetic, sexy, and successful. Ads are trying to boost sales of a product, so this ?product—alcohol?is?made to look as appealing as ?possible!

Here are tips on how parents can address ?issues related to alcohol and the media.

Parents who drink alcohol

Parents who drink should be careful how alcohol is used at home. Having a drink should never be shown as a way to cope with problems. Don?t drink?in unsafe conditions?before or while driving a car, mowing the lawn, boating, etc. Don?t ?encourage your child to drink or join you in having a drink. Parents who are problem drinkers or who use alcohol often and in large amounts place their children at increased risk of alcohol dependence. Studies show that alcoholism runs in the family, so?children of alcoholic parents are?more likely to??become ?alcoholics.

About teen ?confidentiality

All teens should be screened for alcohol and other drug use as part of routine medical care. Your child?s doctor will want to ask questions about alcohol in private to get honest answers. If your child reports alcohol use, the doctor will determine whether your child needs very brief advice, a return visit, or a referral to a specialist. Every doctor will have his or her own policy about what information must be shared with a parent and what will stay confidential (between the patient and the doctor), but most doctors will protect a teen?s confidentiality if they believe the teen?s drug use is not an immediate safety risk to the child or others. It is important for you to respect the doctor?s decisions about confidentiality to encourage your child to have an open and honest discussion with the doctor.

The persons whose photographs are depicted in this publication are professional models. They have no relation to the issues discussed. Any characters they are portraying are fictional.

The information contained in this publication should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.