Health Watch/Copper Country Mental Health

Alcohol advertisers often remind us “to drink responsibly,” and half our nation’s population over age 12 engages in the “to drink,” part. Whether they do it responsibly is debatable. October is National Substance Abuse Prevention Month, and a time to ponder our substance use. More than half of Americans age 12 years and older regularly consume alcohol, and almost a quarter of the population engages in binge drinking (having five or more drinks on the same occasion on at least one day in the previous 30 days).

Adults whose first use of alcohol was before age 14 are seven times more likely to experience a substance abuse disorder. Delaying the first drink until age 21 is one of the most effective ways to reduce substance abuse risk in adulthood. An estimated 9.3 million underage persons (12 to 20 years old) are current drinkers, including nearly 6 million binge drinkers, and 1.7 million heavy drinkers. Many youth who drink alcohol do not believe underage drinking is a health risk. Delaying the first drink of alcohol until adulthood is a worthy prevention goal.

Most parents do what they believe is right to raise their children. Each child is different and so is each family and community. While there is value in individualizing many aspects of parenting and schooling, it can be useful to evaluate a young person’s substance use related risk a bit more broadly.

According to researchers who have been tracking substance use behavior, youth who drink or consume illicit substances are:

More likely to say they believe they are not at risk by consuming alcohol and illicit drugs.

More likely to say they believe their parents would not know or care whether they come home at night.

Less likely to say their parents would become upset about their drug or alcohol use if they found out.

Less likely to say their friends would become upset about their drug or alcohol use if they found out.

More likely to earn Ds and Fs in school.

More likely to say that alcohol and/or illicit drugs are easy to get.

Less likely to say their parents ask about their homework or progress in school.

Less likely to report regular quality time with a parent.

Less likely to identify an adult in their community who shows concern about their success.

Parents whose relationships with their children include a combination of accountability, limit-setting and enforcement, encouragement, higher expectations and hope are engaged in some of the most effective substance use prevention strategies we know. Parents have serious power to matter to their children and influence their success.

Binge and heavy drinking among underage persons in America has declined a bit in the past decade, perhaps due, in part, to raising awareness. We must continue to show youth how early alcohol use impedes their mental and physical capacity and increases their lifetime risk of alcohol abuse or dependence. However, youth most able to appreciate the message may be those whose healthy connection to family and community convinces them they matter.

Editor’s note:?the above article was submitted by Copper County Mental Health.