How to spot signs of youth drinking

Published 8:52 am Thursday, December 16, 2010

Column: Alice Englin, Partners in Prevention

The holidays are here, which means a lot of celebrating. Freeborn County Partners In Prevention encourages you to be aware of how alcohol is included in your celebrations.

What follows is an article from PRNewswire with some helpful information on family influence on underage drinking during the holidays.

Alice Englin

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It is headlined, “Substance abuse can develop if parents underestimate risks of underage drinking.”

CHICAGO — Many see the holidays as a time to celebrate, but when does the celebrating go too far?

One in three high school teens say they are allowed to drink at home for special events like holidays, according to a recent study from Students Against Destructive Decisions and Liberty Mutual Group. Among college students, studies show the numbers rise to 80 percent consuming alcohol.

But Dr. Kimberly Dennis, medical director at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center, one of the leading residential treatment centers for alcoholism, drug abuse and eating disorders, said in her treatment of people with addictions that she has found evidence that innocent exposure to alcohol with the family and during the holidays can too often mark the beginning of a problem.

“Drinking during the holidays and for special occasions is commonly dismissed as traditional, and therefore ‘OK,’” said Dennis. “But parents don’t realize that when children begin drinking at a young age, they are more likely to develop substance abuse problems later in life and risk becoming more susceptible to the complicating factors alcohol has for adults, both physically, emotionally and socially.”

To help parents of teens and young adults facing the “spirits” of the holiday season, Dennis offers the following advice:

Talk with your child about the realities of alcohol and substance use and abuse before it becomes an issue. Be open about your own positions and habits, and be clear with your expectations. The best conversations come from a non-judgmental, non-pressured dialogue, not from cross examination after the fact.

Advise children about risks they face (for themselves and others) in consuming alcohol — drunken driving, spiked drinks, alcohol poisoning and blackouts. They are often exposed to “accepted” drinking at the neighborhood holiday party, and are left unprepared for the realities of consumption in an unsupervised environment. The common reaction is “it won’t happen to me,” but parents need to help their children realize the truth — it can, and it does.

Watch for signs that your child may be drinking. While denial is one of the first signs of an alcoholic, it is also one of the first reactions a parent will have to a child with a substance abuse problem. Is your child depressed, anxious, stressed, apathetic or irritable?

Be realistic about the cause for their erratic behavior or coming in the door past curfew. Address your concerns honestly and directly with your teen.

Dennis said it’s devastating to see the number of families and individuals who suffered for not recognizing and addressing problems with alcohol when they began. Model appropriate alcohol use or abstinence. Children watch their parents, though it may not be obvious. So, be a good role model while verbalizing your concerns.

Experimentation and sampling are normal parts of development, but should not be confused with risk-taking behaviors.

Freeborn County Partners In Prevention wishes you safe and happy holidays!

Alice Englin is the coalition coordinator for Freeborn County Partners In Prevention. Their mission is to prevent and reduce substance use and abuse among Freeborn County youth. Contact her at 377-5504 or