by Jared Erickson, Prevention Specialist
Alcohol is the most used and abused drug among youth in the United States. Alcohol is advertised all over the media and generally portrayed very positively in TV and movies. When we see other people doing something that looks fun, it may trigger us to follow along so we can fit in and belong. What is often missed is the negative impact of alcohol use and how it can affect you now and in the future.
The part of the brain that is most affected by alcohol is the hippocampus, which can cause memory loss and impaired learning. Consequences include dependency on alcohol, but youth who use alcohol may find themselves with additional problems until they receive help:
- School problems, such as absences and failed classes.
- Social problems may include fighting or depression.
- Legal problems like getting arrested, DUI, hurting someone, or stealing to get money for alcohol.
- Physical problems could include hangover, illness, and the increased potential for other substance misuse of prescription and illicit drugs.
Youth tend to have the false perception, thanks to media influence, that “everyone is doing it” when it comes to underage drinking. The truth is that it’s not as widespread as they believe: According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 81 percent of youth between the ages of 12 and 20 did not drink alcohol and 88 percent reported to not binge drinking in the past 30 days. In 2019 according to the Monitoring the Future Survey, 92 percent of 8th graders and 70 percent of 12th graders did not drink during the past 30 days. In 2018, Kane County students took the Illinois Youth Survey and reported that 70 percent of 8th graders, 60 percent of 10th graders, and 39 percent of 12th graders did not use alcohol in the past year. Of those percentages, 83 percent of 8th graders, 73 percent of 10th graders, and 54 percent of 12th graders did not use alcohol in the past 30 days.
Being involved in your child’s everyday life is important in preventing underage drinking. Talk with them about the risks and potential consequences. The more an adult shows they care, the more comfortable teens will be in talking about tough issues. Some suggestions to promote alcohol prevention include:
- Offer alternative ways to have fun such as sports, playing an instrument, or other extracurricular activities.
- Keep alcohol out of reach and out of sight.
- Avoid using scare tactics, and instead stick to the facts about the impacts underage drinking could have on a teenager. Drinking may lead to poor decisions including damaging relationships or posting something they regret on social media.
- Lead by example. Show your kids how much fun you can have without drinking.
Continuing to educate young people on necessary life skills will help keep youth from using alcohol and other substances. Teaching youth skills of success, such as setting goals, making decisions, identifying and managing emotions, effective communication, maintaining healthy relationships, respect for themselves and others, and social media awareness, are all things parents and loved ones can do to prevent the young people in their lives safe, healthy, and substance-free.