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How Parents Can Help Teens SideStep Alcohol Use

Alcohol plays a role in all forms of entertainment media, and advertisements for the elixir can be found throughout our culture. Thus, it’s no surprise that teenagers have better knowledge of alcohol and greater access to it than ever before.

And sadly, many teens are acting on that knowledge and access.

Alcohol and Adolescence

A new study recently published in the Archives of General Psychiatry shows that by the time most teens reach late adolescence, most of them have drank alcohol and abused illicit substances. I know that news isn’t exactly shocking, but understanding the correlation between “early substance use” and “lifetime substance use” might be. (The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has stated that the average age of “first time alcohol” use can be as early as age 12. They also believe that out of the estimated 20 million alcoholics in America, more than half began drinking as teens.)

Researchers asked 10,123 teens, ages 13 to 18, about their drinking and drug habits and then compared the results to lifetime estimates of alcohol and illicit substance abuse. (I won’t be focusing on the increase of teenage marijuana use in this article; that’s another sad subject all together). They found that 78% of U.S. teens had drank alcohol (at least once), and that 47% said they’d consumed 12 or more drinks in the past year. (When it came to drug use, 81% of teens said they had “the opportunity” to use illicit substances, while 42.5% admitted to actually trying them.)

With a big majority of teens trying alcohol and almost half of them drinking on a somewhat regular basis, a natural question might be, Where are they getting the booze from? In addition to sneaking it from their parents’ stash at home and having older acquaintances purchase it for them, young people have continued in their “creativity” when it comes to getting a buzz. For years, we’ve heard about teens drinking alcohol-based cough syrups and mouth washes, but more recently, young people seeking a buzz have turned to that staple of Western Civilization, hand sanitizer.

Yep. Teens who are dedicated enough can separate the ethyl alcohol from the gel-based cleanser, netting themselves a liquid that is 120 proof, an extremely high alcohol content. The LA Times recently ran a story about six teens in the San Fernando Valley who showed up at ERs within a short time of one another, all suffering from the effects of alcohol poisoning they contracted from hand sanitizer.

Maybe teens should pay attention to the warning label that reads “for external use only.”

Blockbusters and Binge Drinking

Given young people’s affinity for alcohol use, many adults are constantly on the lookout for anything that may influence kids to drink. Culture, including media and celebrities, has long topped the list of suspects, but researchers from several European nations have found that the movies kids watch may play a specific role in teens’ decisions about booze.

Their research discovered an interesting parallel: the more scenes of alcohol use teens watch on the big screen, the greater their risk of “binge drinking.” 16,500 students were asked how often they drank five alcoholic beverages during one sitting (the standard amount deemed “binge drinking”), and about the types of movies they watched, which included many box-office hits from the United States. Overall, 27% of the European adolescents surveyed had engaged in binge drinking, a slightly higher percentage than young people in America.

Thank you The Hangover and The Hangover 2.

By the way, very similar studies were conducted in the U.S. and found very much the same thing. After charting the amount of “movie alcohol exposure” American kids were subjected to in several hundred popular films, they found that the chances for binge drinking increased from 4% to 13%. That’s not good news.

Equally important is a related and somewhat surprising find by The Partnership at Drugree.org which claims that many of our nation’s teens do not see downing 5 (or more) alcoholic drinks at a time as a big problem. When asked if the teens saw “great risk” in drinking that much alcohol, 45% said no. According to their study, teens said the top reasons for drinking were “because it is fun” and “so they won’t feel left out.”