By Dr. Jan Hittelman
Despite a reduction in crime overall in 2009, locally there has been a surge in alcohol-related arrests, as reported by the Camera (“Major Crime Down, But Drinking Up”, March 5, 2010). This includes offenses by adults as well as minors. University of Colorado Police, for example, report “ a 24 percent increase over 2008 and 45 percent more than 2006”. It is quite common for high school students to report that while their parents don’t want them to drink and drive, they know that “everybody” drinks alcohol at parties and it’s really no big deal. Many people don’t realize that the high from alcohol is due to its toxic nature. It’s the subjective experience of alcohol poisoning. Most adolescents don’t realize that you can die from drinking too much alcohol, falsely assuming that at worst you’ll throw up (which does not prevent alcohol poisoning) or just sleep it off. Unfortunately, many people die from alcohol as a function of their respiratory system shutting down or choking on their own vomit. There are also few intoxicants that are as addictive as alcohol or as dangerous to our overall physical health, with the exception of the other “legal” drug: tobacco. The fact that alcohol is legal is often a reason that adolescents, and perhaps adults, underestimate its deadly potential.
While it is illegal to sell alcohol to minors, it is easily accessible by having an adult purchase it for them or even more conveniently by taking it from their parents’ liquor cabinet.
What’s a parent to do? Consider these suggestions:
• A good place to start is to look at our own behavior and what we are modeling to our children
• Help your children understand that even though alcohol is legal, it’s more dangerous and addictive than many “street drugs”
• Educate your children regarding the devastating effects that alcohol can have on the developing adolescent brain
• Make sure they know that if they do experiment with alcohol and need help, they can call you and you will come get them
• Have ongoing discussions with your child about alcohol and other drugs
As parents we must educate our children, starting in elementary school about the dangers of drinking, how it affects us physiologically and the wisdom of abstinence. Alcohol abuse is serious business. Does your child know that?