Teen access to drinking, Part 2

By Cyndi Carroll, 

Health Educator, Chisago County Public Health

Hospital emergency room visits involving underage drinking nearly doubles during the holidays.  According to a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, on New Year’s Day 2010, there were an estimated 1,980 emergency department visits involving underage drinking, compared to 546 such visits on an average day that year, a 263 percent increase.

During Christmas and New Year’s, two to three times more people die in alcohol-related fatalities compared to any other time during the year.

This study sheds light on the unfortunate reality that the holidays are too often marked by an increase in underage drinking turning what should be a time of celebration into a time of tragedy.

For the parents who wonder where the harm is in letting teens drink on special occasions, such as the holidays, here are a few of the health risks according to the American Medical Association:

• Children who use alcohol before the age of 15 are more than five times as likely to develop alcohol problems when they are adults.

• A teen’s brain continues to develop until they reach the early 20’s.  Alcohol can permanently damage long and short-term brain growth during this time, impairing memory, learning and judgment.

• Teens who drink are more likely to do poorly in school, commit or be the victim of violence (including sexual assault), be involved in car crashes, and experience stress, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

• Teens who are allowed to drink at home may reason that it’s also OK for them to drink with their friends.  Allowing underage drinking during holidays deprives teens of the clear, common sense guidelines they need to make good choices all year long.

Parents, you have the power to help teens avoid alcohol.

Use your influence to talk regularly with your teens about the risks of underage drinking, set clear expectations for behavior, and enforce consistent consequences for breaking the rules.

Most of all, set a healthy example by showing teens that adults don’t need alcohol to celebrate.  Your teen will be less likely to use alcohol, and more likely to enjoy a healthy new year.

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