U.S. underage drinking: a huge problemConsider the following facts:

  • Deaths – 5,000 people under age 21 die each year in the United States from alcohol-related car crashes, homicides, suicides, alcohol poisoning and other injuries such as falls, burns and drowning.
  • Serious injuries – More than 190,000 people under age 21 visited an emergency room for alcohol-related injuries in 2008 alone.
  • Impaired judgment – Drinking can cause kids to make poor decisions, which can then result in risky behavior such as drinking and driving, sexual activity or violence.
  • Increased risk for physical and sexual assault – Youth who drink are more likely to carry out or be the victim of a physical or sexual assault.
  • Brain development problems – Research shows that brain development continues well into a person’s twenties. Alcohol can affect this development and contribute to a range of problems.

I have seen the sad effects of teen alcohol use in my own practice, too. Many times. A girl drunk and date-raped. A once-promising athlete now in adult-size diapers in a nursing home in a persistently vegetative state because he went through the windshield of his car the first time he got drunk. So many lives permanently changed by poor choices with alcohol.

Parents struggle with the best ways to help their teen stay safe. Here are some tips:

  • Talk to your teen early and often about the real, immediate health dangers of alcohol use. If you need facts, talk to us at Eugene Pediatrics.
  • Keep track of your teen. Most alcohol consumption happens between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., when many kids are home alone, and after 11 p.m., when many parents have gone to bed.
  • Be clear with your expectations that your child not drink at all until they are 21. Permissive parents have a much higher likelihood of their child drinking heavily when they use alcohol.
  • Impose stiff consequences when you find evidence that your under-age child drank alcohol.
  • Drink responsibly in front of your kids. The clearest message your kids get of “it’s okay to abuse alcohol” comes from seeing their number-one role models falling-over drunk, using alcohol to deal with life, or depending on excess alcohol to relax with friends.
  • Never drive when you have had any alcohol. If your kids ever see you get behind the wheel after drinking, you have guaranteed they will do the same. Even below the legal limit, your reflexes in a car are impaired by alcohol. And inexperienced teens with any alcohol in their system are a huge danger to themselves and others behind the wheel.

Remember, 75 percent of kids polled say that their parents’ opinions on alcohol “matter a lot” to them. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (www.madd.org) has a lot of useful information for parents who want to keep their kids safe. And as always, your pediatricians at Eugene Pediatric Associates are here to help you every step of the way.