As children grow older and become adolescents the typical belief is that parents have less influence on their lives. A recent American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) report suggests that parents may positively influence their child’s decision making regarding alcohol use and binge drinking. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as drinking that results in blood alcohol level of 0.08% or higher. Practically this translates into 3 or 4 drinks in 2 hours for girls 9-17 years of age, 3-4 drinks in 2 hours for boys 9-13 years, 4-5 drinks in 2 hours for boys 14-15 and 5 or more drinks in 2 hours for boys 16-17 years of age. Children and teens are smaller than adults and can become intoxicated after drinking a small amount of alcohol. They also do not pay attention to how much they are drinking and can become intoxicated after a few drinks. Unfortunately alcohol is easily accessible to youth, with parents and relatives being the most common source of alcohol.
The AAP report identifies the following risk factors for binge drinking: the developmental period of adolescence and the lack of executive function skills, peer pressure, and media( TV, print, social media). According to the AAP report, high school boys are more likely to binge drink than girls, and white students are more likely to binge drink than students of other races. Teens that start drinking before 15 years of age are more likely to develop alcohol abuse compared to those that start drinking after 20 years of age.
As a nation, we have done a fantastic job presenting the consequences of tobacco and smoking to children. A similar campaign is needed for the short and long term consequences of underage drinking. Some of the short term consequences of binge drinking include alcohol poisoning, higher rates of teen pregnancy, higher rates of sexually transmitted disease, increased risk of unwanted sexual activity, increased likelihood of using other substances, car accidents, homicide and suicide. Long term consequences of underage binge drinking include school problems, legal problems, cognitive impairments, liver disease, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and cancer. Young people need to receive accurate information about how alcohol and binge drinking can impact their lives and place them on a different trajectory. This information should come from a variety of sources including the pediatrician, parents, teachers, coaches, and mass media.
Parents play a vital role in preventing binge drinking. The AAP suggests that parents do the following:
- Talk to children as young as age 9 about the danger of drinking
- If a teen is attending a party, make sure an adult will be present and alcohol will not be served
- Talk with your child in advance about how tho handle scenarios in which alcohol is present
- Do not allow teens to drink in your home even if you are there
- Make sure your children know they can count on you for a ride home if they need to leave a party
- Parents don’t need to abstain from alcohol but should drink responsibly
Jenco, M. AAP News. September 2015. ‘Kids do listen’ when parents tell them not to drink.
Jenco, M. AAP News. September 2015. AAP Report: Screen every adolescent for alcohol use.