Alcohol

These days, convincing teenagers to view alcohol use as a potential problem can be difficult because alcohol is everywhere. Alcohol use may not seem all that bad: In many countries and cultures, most adults seem to use it. Alcohol is often presented in a positive way in TV programs and it is commonly used to celebrate major events.

Nevertheless it is not surprising that young people want to try it and use it. Being young often means trying new things, testing new freedom, taking more risks now that parents and adults are not around them as much as in earlier years. It is also readily available for most young people in non-Muslim countries.

Fact Check

Do you know the facts about alcohol and teenagers?

Parents must role-model responsible drinking behaviour. That means not getting drunk in front of your children, and not appearing that you need to drink everyday. Also, it is unwise – and illegal in some places -- to host a drinking party for teenagers. For example, some states in the United States now have a law that makes it illegal for a parent to host a drinking party in their home for under-age adolescents.

What is Alcohol?

Alcohol is a depressant drug, made from fermented or distilled grains or fruit. In most countries, it is the most commonly abused substance by both teenagers and adults. The “high” that everyone gets from drinking alcohol is actually the feeling caused by its depressant effect on the brain. The following diagram shows the depressant effects on the brain when a person drinks various amounts of alcohol:

When brain function is depressed, the person may lose their inhibitions and feel “relaxed” but is also at risk for several negative consequences: Saying or doing things that would normally cause embarrassment, poor decision making resulting in unwanted sex, accidents, fights, accepting offers to try other illegal substances, or driving while impaired or drunk are some examples.

Under normal circumstances for most people, the body can safely handle about one standard drink per hour. However, your size, how fast you drink, what you've eaten, how you feel, and whether you are a female or male affect how alcohol affects you.

The same amount of alcohol content is in a 5-oz (or about 150 ml) glass of wine, a 12-oz (or about 330 ml) bottle of regular (4%) beer, and a regular 1 oz (or about 30 ml) serving of hard liquor/spirits. No matter which you drink, it's all the same to your body.

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Questions About Alcohol

What does alcohol look like?

Various alcoholic drinks including, beer, wine, scotch, brandy, margaritas and martinis

Most people recognize alcohol as it is used in liquid form. It can appear yellow, brown, clear, green, pink, blue, bubbly, and cloudy; usually comes in glass bottles or metal cans, and is served in a drink glass, mug, or straight from a can. Alcohol may also be served in semi-frozen sweet slushy drinks.

Recently, alcohol is being marketed to young drinkers in new forms, such as frozen alcohol-pops on a stick or mixed into sweet colorful gels. This is to attract the young user.

How is it used?

Typically, alcohol is drunk. Types include beer, wine and liquor. Recently, there have been a few reports of people injecting alcohol intravenously to avoid the telltale smell on their breath.

What is Binge Drinking?

As it suggests, binge drinking is when a person consumes large amounts of alcohol during a short period of time. An episode of binge drinking is typically defined as having five or more drinks in one sitting.

Some teens and young adults will make a game of binge drinking, and the rules of the game are to get drunk fast.

This is a growing problem today for many young people in different parts of the world.

Alcohol: The Hype

There is lots of hype about alcohol. Many youth, as well as parents, buy into the hype. The following examples may be some things you have heard from your own teenager or even from other adults:

Alcohol is a social lubricant because it makes people feel less anxious and inhibited.

However, alcohol can make you feel so comfortable that you will do things that you later regret, such as being taken advantage of by another person.

Underage drinking is a rite of passage. Everyone does it and nearly all children have already been exposed to it at home and in the media, so it’s nearly impossible to prevent youth from underage drinking.

Many teenagers drink, and some will drink to the point where they get intoxicated. But this does not minimize the importance of parents doing what they can to prevent alcohol from harming their child.

Drinking a glass of wine at dinner with the family, or as part of religious practices, teaches youth how to drink responsibly.

Very small amounts of alcohol given to a teenager may not be harmful. If you are going to introduce alcohol to your teenager, make sure it is just a few sips, and not enough to bring the youth to intoxication. Reinforce your concern that alcohol can be dangerous.

The fact is that many parents have also gotten mixed messages from the media, family, friends, about the inevitability of underage drinking.

Some parents give in to these social pressures and give up trying to influence their teen’s behavior, hoping for the best, and praying that their son or daughter will not get into trouble.

Alcohol

Take Alcohol Seriously

Youth learn attitudes about alcohol use from watching what happens in the home. If parents, siblings, or other family members drink, it is more likely your teen may try it at some time. Here are a few tips for sending a message to prevent drinking:

  • Keep your child active in the community, school, church, local recreation centers or in other ways. Keep yourself actively involved, as well, because children model what they see.

  • Talk with your children about the consequences of drinking alcohol, and of playing games involving alcohol consumption. Often, youth do not realize that drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can result in toxicity and death.

Tell your teen that drinking often and heavily may cause damaging changes to the brain; these changes that may not show up immediately, but they could have long-lasting consequences later on, such as in areas of thinking, memory, decision-making.

And don’t forget the issue of the impact of alcohol on the developing brain as discussed in earlier chapters. We are learning more about this daily and the message is that the growing brain and alcohol is not a good combination.

Adapted from About.com: Parenting Adolescents.

Do Not Underestimate the Potential Dangers of Alcohol

Prevention-smart parents must consider their role-model responsibilities with respect to drinking behavior. For example, not getting drunk in front of your children and not appearing that you need to drink everyday.

It is probably unwise to have a party where drink is made available for underage teenagers.

Some families do allow children to drink very small amounts of alcohol with the intention of helping their children to learn how to develop a responsible attitude to alcohol and not treating it as something that makes young people want to use it secretly.

Alcohol and Sex

Drinking alcohol changes a person’s ability to make decisions. One area where this is particularly true is sex. The following facts highlight the relationship between alcohol use and sex among teens:

  • Youth who drink are more likely to engage in high-risk sex.
  • They are less likely to use condoms.
  • Teens who drink alcohol tend to have higher levels of sexual activity earlier, and have greater numbers of sexual partners.
  • They report higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection, and experience more unplanned pregnancies.

Talking to your teen about what can happen when they mix alcohol and sex is important, and should be discussed more than just one time.

Adapted from About.com: Parenting Adolescents.

What About Learning to Drink?

Youth learn about drinking from a complex mix of how their body’s biology responds to alcohol, what they see parents, family members, and peers doing, and messages from the media. They may copy what they see practiced in the home, and adopt similar attitudes their parents have toward alcohol consumption.

Research has shown that what youth observe from their parents has a lot to do with when an individual starts drinking, how heavily and often they drink, and their reasons for drinking. If the teenager sees that getting drunk is an acceptable practice by parents and by other important people in his life, chances are greater that a teenager will adopt the same attitudes and behaviors. But if a teenager sees adults use alcohol in a responsible manner, the likelihood increases that your son or daughter will use alcohol responsibly when of legal age.