First comes prom, then comes graduation, then comes summer vacation and that stealthy menace: unstructured time. But are teens really doomed to take risks and party hard in the summer sunshine? Nope. Here are ten teen drinking myths, debunked. Teen alcoholism.
1. Myth: Teen drinking is OK as long as they’re not driving.
Reality: Well, it’s still illegal, so that counts as “not OK.” Plus, drinking impairs judgment whether or not you’re getting behind the wheel. Only 32 percent of teen drinking deaths are related to driving, 68 percent are related solely to other causes, from homicide to suicide to alcohol poisoning. Non-driving accidents are also quite common, and four out of ten teens who drown have been drinking alcohol.
2. Myth: All teens have an equal chance of becoming addicted to alcohol.
Reality: For one thing, there’s heredity to take into account, teens with alcoholism in their family should be especially careful. Plus, if any teen starts drinking in their early teens, they’re at a greater risk of becoming an alcoholic than someone who starts drinking later on. A 14-year-old drinker has a 16 percent chance of becoming addicted, whereas a teen who starts drinking at 19 has a one percent chance because their brain is more developed.
3. Myth: Prom is a hotbed for teen drinking and debauchery.
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Reality: Prom isn’t the bad guy here, twice as many teens drink during summer break than at school-sponsored (and supervised) events such as prom or graduation. The most dangerous events are the unstructured ones without built-in adult supervision—so watch out for those Fourth-of-July bonfires.
4. Myth: Talk to your kids about drinking before they get their license.
Reality: How about before they hit puberty? Children start viewing alcohol more positively between the ages of nine and 13, so nine is really the optimal age to start talking to them about underage drinking, which (you might mention) contributes to 4,700 deaths per year.
5. Myth: Statistics will scare teens into not driving drunk.
Reality: Telling a kid that they’re 17 times more likely to die in a crash if there’s alcohol involved is all well and good, but Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) research shows that tragic true stories, not statistics, successfully change minds and behaviors.
Reality: Not if that driver is under 26. Yes, all drunk drivers are dangerous, but drivers under 26 cause the most auto fatalities, regardless of alcohol consumption. 21 percent of young drivers (a higher percent than any other age group) involved in a fatal accident have some alcohol in their system.
Reality: There’s a long list of deadly disorders for which alcohol is a lead contributor. It’s also the only cause of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, commonly known as “wet brain,” which essentially pickles the brain due to malnutrition. The mortality rate for late-stage “wet brain” is 20 percent, and people living with it can no longer walk steadily, think clearly, or take care of themselves.
Reality: Alcohol withdrawal symptoms often get worse over time, and may persist for weeks. Alcohol withdrawal can be fatal, and is much more likely to cause death than withdrawal from less socially-accepted drugs such as heroin.
9. Myth: Teens are going to drive drunk, it’s inevitable.
Reality: Teen drunk driving has decreased by 54 percent since 1991, and 90 percent of high school students don’t drink and drive at all. Kids are, and should be, responsible for planning safe party transportation, and it’s not “uncool” to be the designated driver.
Youth alcoholism on the rise
10. Myth: Drinking is a rite of passage, parents can’t do anything to prevent it.
Reality: According to a new study from SAMHSA, one in five parents believe that he or she has little say in his/her child’s drug or alcohol use. Yet the study showed that children who believed their parents would disapprove of their behavior were less likely to use drugs or alcohol. Only five percent of kids who believed their parents disapproved of marijuana smoked it anyway, and 80 percent of teens said their parents were the leading influence on whether or not they should drink. Lesson learned: a little disapproval goes a long way.