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Teens and Alcohol Abuse - The Facts
Combine regular use of alcohol with the still-developing brain of a teenager and you may be setting the stage for a lifetime of physical and emotional problems. Recent research indicates that teens who regularly drink to excess have more difficulty with mental functions (including language, memory, attention and problem-solving skills) than teens who don't abuse alcohol. They're also much more likely to have alcohol-related auto and personal accidents.
1. Make it your household rule that no one drinks alcohol unless they're older than 21.
2. Explain that drinking and driving is an even greater risk for teenagers, since they're combining intoxication with inexperience behind the wheel.
3. Remind teens that they could lose their license under the Zero Tolerance laws in place in all 50 states.
Parents also need to remember that they are the strongest role models in their child's life. If they use alcohol responsibly and stay aware of their child's friends and activities, their teen's risk of developing an abuse problem are lower.
A teenager's risk for abusing alcohol and possibly developing a substance abuse problem include personal, family and community risk factors.
Personal Risk Factors
Personality/temperament. Teens who are sensation-seekers or who are excessively rebellious, resistant to authority, and who aren't good at forming close relationships are more prone to look for an "escape" via drugs or alcohol.
Genetics. People with alcohol abuse problems very often have a family history of substance abuse.
Diseases/disorders. Teenagers with clinical depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental conditions often are prone to abusing alcohol in an effort to relieve their symptoms. The same holds true for teens who have been physically or sexually abused.
False expectations. Many teens still operate under the misconception that alcohol is glamorous, that being drunk is cool, and that "Everybody does it."
Early abuse. Teens who begin abusing alcohol at a very young age (14 or earlier) are four to five times more likely to develop an abuse problem.
Family Risk Factors
Parents. Teens with a parent who abuses alcohol or drugs are three times more likely to develop a problem themselves. They're also at higher risk if the parent has a tolerant attitude toward alcohol and drug experimentation or is not consistently involved in the child's life.
Detachment. Teens from families with constant conflict, physical or sexual abuse, or psychological stress are much more likely to try alcohol as a way to turn off emotional pain.
Community Risk Factors
Access. If there is easy access to cigarette machines, alcohol or other substances, and if drug or alcohol abuse is generally tolerated in the surrounding community, then teens are at a much higher risk.
Peers. Peer groups have a huge influence on a teen's choice to abuse alcohol.
Media. Media ads, movies and music perpetuate the use of alcohol, cigarettes and drugs as a way to gain popularity, success and sex appeal. Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to this message.
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