Parents are often confused about their role in helping teens navigate decisions related to alcohol and drugs. For some, the right path is an adherence to strict rules for any type of substance use. For other parents, there’s a benefit in allowing alcohol to be consumed in moderation under a watchful parental eye. Experts say that the correct strategy may involve the best elements of each approach.
Peer pressure related to substance use has been given so much attention in the media that parents may underestimate their own role. Research has shown that when parents make their wishes, rules and consequences clear, teens are more likely to avoid alcohol and drug use.
The importance of parents’ roles in helping teens determine whether to use substances is highlighted in a recent article published in the Reading Eagle which profiled a young man identified as Andrew who began drinking his freshman year of high school. What started as a response to peer pressure as a young teen evolved into a full-blown adult addict.
This is the concern of many experts who work with alcohol addiction. Early initiation of alcohol use often results in a teen who transitions into adulthood with an alcohol dependence. During these formative years, teens are making decisions that impact their careers and relationships.
The article notes that for many teens, summertime is an especially vulnerable period for substance use initiation. Teens may find themselves bored and spending increased time with friends, allowing temptation to take hold.
Andrew was dependent on alcohol for 12 years until he was treated at Pennsylvania’s Caron Treatment Centers. Now Andrew is an employee at Caron, trained to help other young people overcome addiction.
Caron Treatment Centers conducted an online survey to examine local trends in drug and alcohol attitudes and beliefs in the Reading area. The results showed that 78 percent of adult respondents had tried alcohol before they were of legal age.
The majority of those first drinks took place at home or at the home of a friend, and the drinks were more likely to have been consumed in the summer.
The survey also revealed a troubling attitude among adults. Forty-one percent of those surveyed believed that responsible drinking habits were best learned at home while still in high school.
However, research has shown that teens who drink at home are at an increased risk for developing a dependence. Parents believe they are maintaining some level of control over their child’s drinking, but instead they are unknowingly setting the stage for alcohol abuse.
In addition, alcohol consumption is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, certain types of cancer and liver disease. Teens that begin drinking at a young age expose their bodies to these risks for a longer period of time when compared with individuals who begin drinking in adulthood.
The article also discusses the potential brain damage associated with alcohol use, a problem that is particularly critical in teenage brains that are still developing. Alcohol use can lead to ongoing cognitive impairment when it is consumed during adolescence.
Parents should be heavily involved in their children’s decisions related to alcohol and drugs, but serving them a cocktail at home is not the way to ensure that the teen will make good choices. In fact, experts say that parents should clearly communicate that they want their child to avoid substances while talking openly about the risks of using drugs and alcohol.
An open dialogue is important so teens feel comfortable asking follow-up questions and talking with parents later on if they make a poor decision.