Teenagers are bombarded with images of alcohol use, almost all of them associating drinking with good times. Alcohol is widely available, and it is one of the most abused drugs among adolescents.
By the age of eighteen, 80 to 90 percent of teens have tried alcohol. The average age to start drinking has dropped from fourteen to twelve in recent years, and an estimated 4.6 million teens between the ages of fourteen and seventeen have significant alcohol problems. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers, and as many as one-third of fatal crashes involve alcohol. Alcohol is also a factor in adolescent depression, poor performance in school, sexual activity, date rape, assaults, accidental deaths, and even homicide.
Alcohol is easy for teens to get their hands on. Many establishments will sell to minors, and some children know someone of legal drinking age who will obtain it for them. Some teens steal alcohol from their own homes, and some parents give their children alcohol because they feel it is safer than having their children obtain it by other means.
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. Even in small quantities, alcohol can impair judgment and coordination. Aggressiveness can be seen even with low amounts of alcohol; this is a bad combination for the already hormonally charged teens. At higher amounts, alcohol can impair mental functioning, including the ability to remember information. Drinking too much can lead to alcohol poisoning, which can cause irreversible brain damage or death.
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The first thing you should do as a parent is work toward prevention. Teach your son about the dangers of alcohol. Explain to him the reasons that there are limits on who can drink. You should also teach him how to say no to alcohol and let him know he can call you for a ride with no fear of repercussions if his ride becomes drunk.
You should also look for signs of alcohol use and abuse in your son. Signs include:
Smelling of alcohol
Missing alcohol at home
Problems at school
A new crowd of friends
Friends with a history of alcohol use/abuse
Increase in sleeping/decrease in energy
Slurred speech and disorientation
If your son gets alcohol poisoning, seek medical attention immediately. Follow up with psychological help. If you suspect your teen is drinking alcohol, talk to him about it. Do not wait for proof to present itself, but do not accuse your son of drinking if you aren't sure. Restate your rules and the consequences, open up a discussion on alcohol, and keep an eye on him.
Drinking large quantities at one time is known as binge drinking. This is a huge problem on university campuses and has resulted in deaths from both alcohol poisoning and accidents. Be sure your son knows about the dangers of binge drinking.