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Parent Update on Teen Alcohol Use

By JoAnn Hamilton
February 6, 2006

New brain research shows that the brain goes through rapid development and "wiring" changes during the ages of 12-21. "Teen alcohol use can damage this brain wiring which is essential to become a mature, thoughtful, responsible adult" (American Medical Fact Sheet, 2003). It is important to teach this and the following information to our teens.


According to the same fact sheet, alcohol acts like a computer virus in the brain that slows or shuts down brain activity, deletes or distorts neural messages, damages neuro-connections, hinders formation of mature brain wiring, rewires a brain's pleasure-reward system, which can lead to alcohol dependence/addiction. Furthermore, alcohol can cause damage to young people in the following ways: teens can develop social problems, display poor judgment, get into trouble, do poorly in school and experience failure in achieving goals.  


Research has revealed that 40 percent of those who start drinking before the age of 15 will become alcohol dependent.


Why Teens drink


A U.S. Department of Justice report indicates that whether and how much young people drink depends to a large extent on community norms and expectations about drinking (U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, "How to Use Local Regulatory and Land Use Powers to Prevent Underage Drinking").  


The Department of Justice reported, "These norms and expectations emerge from and reflect the community alcohol landscape or alcohol environment, including such elements as messages regarding alcohol use in the media and elsewhere; the ease with which young people can obtain alcohol through commercial and noncommercial sources; and the role of alcohol in community events. This landscape can be shaped by local regulations and land use ordinances, which are forms of alcohol policy. "


I was amazed to hear recently on the news that for each alcohol ad that teens see, drinking in teens goes up one percent. Drinking becomes more acceptable, as a result.   Teens are influenced if beer is made available in places frequented by teens, if prices are discounted and if it is promoted with youthful messages. To protect our teens, it is recommended on a national level that alcohol outlets be prohibited within spec if ied distances from schools, childcare centers, youth centers, and other locations where children congregate. If beer is on the restaurant menus and is seen in advertisements, it adds to the alcohol landscape or alcohol environment.  


How many places are licensed to sell beer in your city? How many of these businesses sold alcohol to minors last year? You can call your state alcohol commission and find out. When stores break the rules and sell to minors, your city council can revoke their licenses. Then you will have fewer places selling beer to minors. Remember that as you decrease your alcohol environment you decrease youthful use of alcohol.


What Adults can Do


Tell your city government you want alcohol licenses revoked when businesses are caught selling to minors, and ask them to not give beer licenses to businesses that are close to schools, the library or other places where children congregate.

Teach your children to value, honor, and protect themselves from the harms of alcohol.

 Discuss your family's values and set boundaries for your children.

 Create a positive, loving home environment that includes eating dinner together, doing fun activities, listen to your kids' concerns, and help them find healthy ways to deal with stress, hardships or depression.

Be in your children's lives. Always know where your kids are and what they are doing. Get to know your kids' friends and their families. Help provide opportunities for good and safe fun.


Know that alcohol can happen in "good" families. Let's teach effectively in our homes and improve our community alcohol environment.




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