Teenage drinking is a serious issue.
About 66 percent of people aged 12 or older reported drinking alcohol during the previous year, according to a 2014 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration study.
In a 2013 study by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 22 percent of young people between ages 12 and 20 said they had consumed alcohol in the past month. In 2012, about 24 percent of 8th graders and 64 percent of 12th graders said they used alcohol.
A SAMHSA study conducted that same year tells us more than 58 percent of those who took their first drink were below the age of 18.
What’s worse is the very real impact drinking can have on a child’s brain.
According to the American Medical Association, “during ... adolescence, alcohol can seriously damage short- and long-term growth processes ... Damage from alcohol at this time can be long-term and irreversible.”
Studies show that alcohol use during teen years disrupts the brain’s memory center — the hippocampus — at a time when acquiring basic knowledge and succeeding on aptitude tests are critical to his future. The AMA reports teens who drink score worse on tests — even of general knowledge and memory — than their non-drinking counterparts.
Even short-term or moderate drinking impairs youngsters more than adults, and it takes only half as much alcohol to negatively affect a teen as an adult. Kids who drink don’t do as well in school, and are more likely to become depressed, suicidal and even violent, according to the AMA.
What’s more, drinking super-boosts dopamine levels (think of them as the brain’s “feel-good” signals). The brain responds by reducing the number of “feel-good” signals it transmits. Consequently, over time, a teen will have to drink two or more drinks to achieve the same “high” he originally got from one.
The fact that a teen’s brain is still developing also makes recovery from consuming alcohol more difficult. Without the constant dopamine boost, your child might feel lackluster for months, before dopamine levels naturally return to balance. It’s a roller coaster that can lead to a flat affect, or even depression in some cases.
As a parent, you are the first line of defense in the battle against teen drinking. While “Just Say No” sounds good on paper, it takes more than a slogan to keep your child healthy and safe. Parties and other social gatherings can provide high-risk temptations for your teen.
Here are a few tips to keep events in your home or neighborhood alcohol-free:
· Monitor entrances and exits. It sounds like policing, but as a parent, you may have to go there. If you can’t cover all the entry points at the party site, enlist chaperoning help from other parents and trusted neighbors.
· State a definite beginning and ending time for the party, and stick to it. It’s in the “after hours” that illicit temptations can crop up.
· Do your best to keep teens from running to and from their cars during the event. This is a common way to sneak alcohol and other substances into a party. You can try encouraging teens to leave their backpacks in a monitored location -- one that is truly safe from thieves or other interlopers.
· Don’t use pitchers or punch bowls to serve beverages. Stick to individual cans or bottles if you can.
Truth be told— even the most vigilant parent can’t always prevent a teen from drinking. Watching a child slide toward dependency and abuse can lead to feelings of helplessness.
If you find your child routinely using — or abusing — alcohol, help is available. Organizations dedicated to treating substance usage are only a phone call or a click away.
In the Tampa area, one of the most knowledgeable treatment organizations about teen alcohol use is Drug Abuse Comprehensive Coordinating Office (dacco.org). One way in which they work to reduce teen alcohol consumption is through their “Be the Wall” campaign, which can be found at bethewall.com. DACCO takes into account a teen’s psychological and spiritual health, even as it works to reduce alcohol dependency on a physiological level.
“We believe that to truly treat an individual, an assessment must include an identification of any underlying emotional or psychiatric illness such as depression, trauma, grief or loss issues, anxiety, bipolar disorder, ADHD, and post-traumatic stress disorders.” DACCO’s website says. “Our medical treatment approach includes a thorough assessment and proven treatment models that address all issues related to the addiction.”
Among DACCO’s highly trained staffers are full-time physicians who are Board Certified in Addiction Medicine. The organization’s various affiliations allow it to have access to the latest research on addiction treatment. DACCO accepts a range of insurances, as well as Medicaid.
DACCO staff can be reached by phone at (813) 384-4000.