Scarcely a week goes by that we don’t hear the tragic news of another young person lost to a heroin or prescription pain medication overdose.
Our nation is indeed in the grips of a major crisis. Some say we are losing a generation to the opioid epidemic.
As heartbreaking as the news is most days, I often find myself wondering why America isn’t crying as many tears for the young lives lost to alcohol use, misuse and abuse?
The national average age when a child begins drinking alcohol is 14. In Texas, that age is 12.5.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, people ages 12-20 drink 11 percent of all the alcohol consumed in this country. Nearly 100 percent of these pre-teens and teens are binge drinking, meaning they’re not just “drinking socially.” They are guzzling alcohol as quickly as they can with the express purpose of getting drunk.
The consequences of underage drinking are too often deadly. Each year, 4,358 young people die in alcohol-related accidents. When children begin drinking before the age of 15, they are four times more likely to develop some kind of dependence, perhaps even addiction, as an adult.
Where is the outrage?
April is the 31st annual Alcohol Awareness Month, begun by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD).
Educating people today about alcohol is a tricky proposition. The beer industry alone is a $106 billion industry. To be clear, though, we’re not in the business of encouraging adults not to participate in this very legal activity.
We are however, in the business of getting parents and adults to talk to their children and teens about alcohol. One of the goals for Alcohol Awareness Month is for parents to help their kids connect the dots between alcohol use and potential consequences.
Oddly enough, when parents talk, kids listen (even though their kids won’t admit it) and when these conversations happen, teens are up to half as likely to drink alcohol.
It’s not about “just say no” or “don’t do as I do, do as I say.” Those phrases were for previous, less informed generations. Full disclosure: I am a product of the generation that never spoke of these things and certainly didn’t show the outside world that life was anything less than “fine.”
I’ve been in recovery from alcoholism and substances for nearly 29 years. You can draw your own conclusions.
We adults have to make the trajectory of our kids’ futures as positive as possible. We can do this by:
Never serving alcohol to them or to their friends.
Being hyper-vigilant about when they’re at a friend’s home by knowing a responsible adult.
Making sure your child can always reach you by phone AND knows it’s always safe to call.
Communicating your expectations when s/he goes out with friends.
Having conversations about how alcohol impacts the body—especially if your family has a history of substance use disorders.
People often ask me why I work in the field of drug prevention. My answer is simple: To try to keep our youth and their families from traveling the path I did with my family.
Granted, my life turned out well in spite of addiction, but we can’t build a future for our kids by sticking our heads in the sand and expecting those kind of miracles.
Alcohol Awareness Month is the perfect time to begin—or continue—pointed conversations.