There is one on every block.

Teenaged drinking

We all know who they are – the parents that want the kids to “drink somewhere safe because they are going to do it anyways”…..the parents that want to be “the cool parents”…..the ones who “have all the parties”……the ones who get the kids the booze “because they are going to get it anyways”….the ones who think that letting kids drink wins “the popularity contest”…..and the parents who want to live vicariously through their kids.

More often than not, these parents are alcoholics themselves.  This does not mean that they are bad people.  It is important to keep in mind that everybody has a story that makes them who they are – so don’t judge.  You might have become an alcoholic too if you had to deal with what they had to deal with.

But there is line crossed when this sort of thing affects YOUR kids.

Alcoholic Mom

People with “alcohol issues” often are productive members of society and hold respectful jobs.  Often, in fact – judicious drinking is PART of their job.  “Sales” – related jobs more often than not relate to a great deal of drinking at the golf course, at sales lunches and dinners or “meeting over drinks”, etc.

Alcohol Lunch

The fact is that we live in an alcohol fuelled culture where many have lost sight of the blurry line between alcohol “use” and alcohol “abuse”.

Alcohol abuse

It is interesting to note that certain flavours can be properly enjoyed and experienced only through alcoholic drinks.  This is because certain flavours and combinations of flavours are more easily mixed and dissolved into alcohol than into water.  Lots of drinks are awesome and are very enjoyable.

“Enjoying” a drink is a normal and healthy thing to do.  But when you are drinking primarily to get the “buzz” or routinely drinking until or beyond “the buzz” – you are probably abusing alcohol.  Alcohol is a drug that overstimulates certain neurons in the brain to the point that they no longer work normally.  Many alcoholics find the drug both sedating and “disinhibiting” – which is often desireable on top of the feeling of intoxication (which is addictive).

addiction_cycle1

Many alcoholics don’t know that they are alcoholics.  This is mostly because they are in denial and also because they are so firmly entrenched into the “alcohol culture” – that getting drunk is an entirely “normal” thing for them.  A funny thing about alcoholics is the fact that their condition is obvious to most everyone around them….but people are polite and they don’t want confrontation – so alcoholics are tolerated (but always whispered about).

Lots of highschool parties are centred around alcohol and getting drunk.  For many teens, “the drunk party” is an opportunity to “spurn the rules” and “Exert autonomy and a feeling of joining adulthood”.  For many other teens, they are encouraged by their parents to “join the club”.

Many of these teens grew up seeing one of both of their parents pass out drunk on a routine basis since their earliest memories.  They then watch their parents friends do the same….then their older brothers and sisters.  This then becomes “the norm” to even young kids who don’t see anything wrong at all with drinking.

underage-drinking

And let’s face it – lots of alcoholics do pretty well!  They seem to have a great time, they have a lot of “friends” and they “get all the sales deals”.  So, what’s wrong with that?

Well – they also kill a lot of people while driving drunk, and like a disease – they make even more people more likely to drive drunk and kill even more people.  Alcoholics also get more liver disease, more liver cancer and FAR MORE breast cancer and bowel cancer than “normal people”.  They drive up insurance rates and they all eventually become a force of destruction and toxicity in the lives of their families and friends. Drinking too much alcohol on a regular basis ALWAYS EVENTUALLY leads to negative consequences to the drinkers and the people that care for them.

Drunk-driving-poster-3-500x400

The worst thing about alcoholics is that they tend to encourage other people – even their kids – to become alcoholics.  This happens through both active and passive influences.

So what do you do about your teenaged son or daughter who has to consider being “in the cool group” and going to “the party that  EVERYBODY is going to go to”?  The answer is to stand firm and teach your kids that there is a very visible line between right and wrong.  The law in Canada for drinking is age 18 and the law in the USA is 21.  The law is like this for good reason.  Simply insist that your teenager respect the law and teach them that the law exists for good reason.

Drinking age 18 and 21

Also – encourage your teenager to totally avoid the “alcohol culture”.  No need to make the kids all sanctimonious and “judgey”.  The fact is that your kids are going to live and work in a world where there are many, many people – even good people – that simply drink too much.  Encourage your kids to be comfortable being around these people – but to not feel even a little bit of a need to “join them” in their bad choices.  Your kids should be ENTIRELY COMFORTABLE AND CONFIDENT in having a pop while most everybody around them is having a beer or “doing shots”.  Your kids should be comfortable in being firm about saying “NO” to drinks when it is not appropriate nor desired.

Kids and families that flaunt the “alcohol culture” should be recognized and discussed openly with your teen.  They might be good people otherwise, but you should discuss with your kids your approach to handling situations where there is likely to be a lot of drinking and intoxication.  My own view is that my kids are to avoid these situations wherever possible.  My wife and I avoid them whenever possible – but it is not ALWAYS possible.  Discussing strategies with your kids like how to avoid these situations and how to extricate themselves from unavoidable “heavy drinking” situations are critical life skills for them to have.

Have a “code word” that they can text you or call you with.

For example, simply getting the text or call from your teen that says, “guava juice” – should prompt you to pick them up immediately without explanation or comment.  This little safety trick keeps your teen safe in the knowledge that they have a “special ops extraction team” ready and always willing to “get them out” while helping them to “save face”.

Spec Ops

“Good” kids and “Responsible parents” are ALWAYS on the lookout for others like them that share similar values.  Encourage your kids to get to know other kids who come from families with similar values to yours because there is strength in numbers.

Everybody knows who the “drunk parents are” and who “the party parents are”.  Encourage your kids to be open about their criticism of drinking under age and provide your kids with lots of alternatives.  Teenagers LOVE to have fun.  Encourage a community teen group, girls nights out, guys nights out, etc., etc. that is organized by the teenagers and supported by responsible parents.  Support your teens’ relationships with responsible friends and do not pussyfoot around your opinions about kids and families that are centred on “the alcohol culture”.  Be blunt and open with your kids about your opinions on alcohol abuse and underage drinking.

happy teens

Encourage good behaviour and good decisions – and perhaps more importantly – REWARD good behaviour.   Rewards can be in many forms like parent-sponsored movie nights, alcohol free parties, trips to the ski hill, waterslide, movie in the park, hay ride, etc., etc…….

Most importantly, no matter who you are and how busy and tired and involved and overburdened you are – take AT LEAST 10 minutes to “turn the world off” and just chat with your teen every day no matter what.  It might be a rough start at first but it will get more and more comfortable and they will be more likely to trust you with their “day to day” concerns which might surprise you.

choosing from images stream

Your teen is living in a very different world than you grew up in…..they live in a world of text messaging, i-messaging, snapchatting, facebooking, tumblr-ing, instagramming, etc.  In your teenaged world, there were only 250,000 cars on the road in your major city….now there are over a million on the road.  Taking “Bath Salts” is far more dangerous for you than cocaine, “meth” is traded at parties and kills much more easily than a “couple of joints”.

Neighbourhood

We have to be aware of a whole new breed of increasingly dangerous addictions that want to take our teens in modern society – so you have to know the nature of these addictions and the cultures and families that feed and water them.

The best way to keep your kids safe from these problems is to send them into the “real world” armed with knowledge, support and confidence.

Your Comments are always welcome!

 

On teenaged drinking and alcohol abuse

Dr. John Fernandes

B.Sc., M.Sc., M.D., LMCC, CCFP, FCPC Clinical Lecturer, University of Calgary I am a Physician with over a decade of experience in my own Private Clinic as well as a full admitting Physician to a Tertiary Care Hospital in Calgary. Married with two daughters that both want to be Physicians as well. Hobbies include skiing, golf, mountain biking and Karate.

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