This is the last post in a three-part series about substance use and misuse in the teen years.
Teenage Wasteland might be a memorable song lyric by The Who…but teens getting wasted – is it really no big deal or should we be concerned?
When I say wasted, I mean binge drinking–drinking to the point of intoxication, or getting drunk. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) defines it as “consuming five or more drinks on one occasion”. However, depending on a person’s weight and the period of time in which the drinks were consumed, it may take far less than five drinks for a teen to become drunk.
We know many teens are binge drinking. 3% of grade 7 students, this means 12 year olds, say they have recently (within the past month) consumed five or more drinks at one time (2011 Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey by CAMH). By grade 12, this number increases to nearly 50%. The sheer popularity of binge drinking alone is alarming, and with prom season and the end of school on the horizon, the desire and opportunities to do so will likely increase.
Teenage drinking is a real challenge for parents. Your son or daughter getting loaded may be concern enough, but unfortuately there are also some serious health risks to consider:
- Alcohol impairs rational thinking. So an intoxicated teen might do things that a sober teen would decide is too risky. Physical violence (like fighting) or having unprotected/casual sex can be decisions that a teen later regrets.
- The most serious risk is the one a teen does not live to regret, because binge drinking can lead to death from alcohol poisoning. A young person might just consume too much alcohol too quickly and the body cannot recover. Sadly, there are recent, local examples of teens who lost their lives to alcohol poisoning.
- A teen’s developing brain can be harmed by alcohol. The brain undergoes important changes and development starting around age 13 and continuing throughout the teen years. Research shows that repeated exposure to alcohol may harm the way the brain develops.
So, maybe at this point you’re thinking it’s better for your teen and their friends to drink alcohol in your basement because it’s safer. Let me discourage this myth by saying that parents/homeowners are legally liable for providing alcohol to minors and any of the harms that happen as a result.
What can parents do?
- Don’t supply your teen or their friends with alcohol.
- Be a good role model. Show your kids how to drink alcohol responsibly. Canada’s Low Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines can help you check your drinking.
- Talk to your kids about alcohol. Talk about the risks and tell them what you think about binge drinking.
- Monitor what your teen is doing. Know where they are going, who they are with and what they will be doing. Tell them what time they must be home.
Finally, if you know your teen is going out and might be binge drinking, make sure they are accompanied by a friend who will remain sober and help them avoid taking risks that can lead to injuries, violence or even death. You can also check out this partying tip sheet for parents, or call us at 311 or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or concerns about your son or daughter.
Share your experience:
For more information about substance use and parenting teens, or to share your experience, there are many ways you can talk to one of us directly:
- Leave us a comment below – we’d love your feedback
- Talk to us on Twitter: @haltonparents
- Email us at email@example.com
- Dial 311 or 905-825-6000 for parenting information or to speak directly to a Public Health Nurse every Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
About this guest blogger:
Michelle Schwarz, RN, MPA is a Public Health Nurse on the Youth Health Team whose work focuses on preventing injuries and substance misuse among youth. She is a parent to 3 active children, and enjoys cheering them on at swim meets, hockey and basketball games, dance competitions and piano recitals in her “spare time”.