Talking with kids about alcohol and drugs

While statistics surrounding youth alcohol and drug use are frightening, parents can't afford to stick their heads in the sand. Your child's health and perhaps life may depend on your ability to address this issue.

Fact: Youth alcohol and drug use is as widespread as ever.

Reality check: 82 percent of high school seniors have used alcohol, 50 percent have used marijuana and 9 percent have used cocaine, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which also reports binge drinking consuming five or more drinks in a row during the preceding two weeks by almost 30 percent of high school seniors and 24 percent of 10th graders.

Fact: Stronger drugs have become available from an increasing number of global sources.

Reality check: 30 years ago marijuana typically contained less than 1 percent THC the psychoactive component of marijuana. Today, marijuana typically contains 15 percent THC. "Blunts" marijuana wrapped in cigar packaging are increasingly popular and often contain marijuana mixed with crack, heroin or PCP.

Fact: Alcohol and drug use correlates with increased violence that leads to injury or death, even among first-time experimenters.

Reality check: Researchers estimate that alcohol use is implicated in one- to two-thirds of sexual assault and acquaintance or "date" rape cases among teen and college students.

If your child is old enough to recognize words or images associated with alcohol and drugs, your child is old enough for you to bring up the subject.

Discuss substance abuse whenever you see it happening. Help young children distinguish between adults appropriate and moderate alcohol use vs. intoxication or inappropriate behavior. Draw upon real experiences that happen in the community or situations portrayed on TV, movies, and radio.

Be specific that alcohol and other drugs are dangerous to a still-developing body and mind. Be specific about the problems that arise from using alcohol and drugs, such as:
bulletdecreased athletic ability
bullethangovers and more serious health consequences
bulletpoor decisions
bulletsexual behavior
bulletaccidents caused by poor judgment
bulletdangers of mixing alcohol and medications

Whether a parent chooses to drink alcoholic beverages in front of his or her child is a personal decision. But do recognize the power of the silent messages you send. For instance, your child will be apt to associate alcohol with relaxation if you unwind with an alcoholic beverage after a hard day at work.

Set clear limits regarding alcohol and drug use and communicate these expectations regularly with your child, focusing on your concerns about overall health and safety. If you don't want your child to use alcohol until he or she reaches the legal drinking age of 21, say so.

Consult with your spouse to determine appropriate limits and consequences for your child. Consequences should reflect your child's interests such as restricting social contact, recreational activities, movies, video games or use of the family car. Assert your parental role and follow through with consequences.

Know where your kids are going and who they spend time with. Don't compromise your limits by giving in to pleas of "all the other kids get to." Dialog with other parents about what they hope for and expect of their children. You may be surprised how many other parents share your concerns about alcohol and drug use.

Eighty-two percent of high school seniors have used alcohol, 50 percent have used marijuana, and 9 percent have used cocaine.

Resource List:

Alateen Al-Anon Family Group, 1600 Corporate Landing Parkway, Virginia Beach, VA 23454-5617, 800-356-9996

American Council for Drug Education, 164 West 74th Street, New York, NY 10023, 800-488-DRUG

Hazelden Center for Youth and Families, 11505 36th Ave. N.,Plymouth, MN, 55441-2398, 800-833-4497

National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information, P.O. Box 2345, Rockville, MD, 20847, 800-729-6686

National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency, 12 West 21st Street, New York, NY, 10010, (212) 206-6770

National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism 60000 Executive Blvd., suite 400 Bethesda, MD 20892-7003 (301) 443-3860

National Institute on Drug Abuse 5600 Fishers Lane, Room 10-05 Rockville, MD 20857 (301) 443-6480

The Hazelden Foundation offers nearly 50 years of pioneering leadership in the care of chemically dependent people and their families.

Established in 1981, Hazelden Center for Youth and Families (HCYF) provides alcoholism and drug dependency treatment services to youth ages 14 to 25. Located a few minutes west of Minneapolis, HCYF is situated on 15 wooded acres along the north shore of Medicine Lake. This serene setting provides the perfect backdrop for personal reflection and in-depth interaction.

HCYF provides a safe, supportive environment where young people can face their chemical use and learn to make healthy decisions about its role in their lives. Its a place where young people, parents and families begin to rebuild lives that have been racked with uncertainty, pain, fear and helplessness.