For the past two years, I have gone into local high schools around prom time to speak to juniors and seniors about drugs and alcohol. I am really honest with them. I show them my mugshot from when I got a DUI with a blood alcohol level of .24. I show them the substance abuse treatment facility I went to. And I show them a picture of my brother who died at the age of 29 from a prescription drug overdose as well as a picture of where he is buried. I let them know that they if they are an alcoholic or addict and they don’t choose recovery, then their other options are jails, institutions or death. Although my motives aren’t to scare them, let’s face it: addiction is scary shit. I’m just real with them.
I don’t Nancy Reagan them with “just say no,” but I do provide them with facts and information and share my own experience with drugs and alcohol. I try to clear up any misconceptions they might have about addiction. I tell them no one grows up wanting to be an alcoholic or addict. I tell them that you think you can stop if you want to until you can’t and it’s when I got to that point that I knew I had a problem. I tell them that once they try to control their drinking they have already lost control. And I tell them that there is a solution and that recovery is possible, and I tell them what that looks like.
What I didn’t realize until recently is that while I am putting all my effort into education and bringing awareness to students, I apparently need to do the same for their parents. Kids are getting mixed messages about underage drinking. Here I am telling kids how lame it is to get wasted—that it’s not necessary to have fun and that there are a hell of a lot of consequences they could save themselves by not drinking. Then I come to find out parents are hosting prom parties where alcohol is allowed and sometimes provided.
I’m sorry. What? Who are these parents? And you can save your argument for “providing a safe environment” for your kids to drink. It is one thing for parents to do this on a Tuesday night with their own kid (still don’t agree with it), but involving other people’s children is simply wrong and irresponsible. Oh, and not to mention illegal (this being, honestly, the least of my worries).
Are these parents ignorant? Trying to be cool? I honestly don’t get it. Parents need to be parents—make some rules, set some boundaries. They need to stop trying to be cool. They need to stop trying to be their kid’s friend. As much as kids want to get their way and make the rules, they need boundaries. They need rules. They need parents to lead by example, not to buy them a keg.
Just how serious and harmful is underage drinking? Data from a survey conducted by a scientist at Boston University School of Public Health and Youth Alcohol Prevention Center of 43,000 US adults shows that early alcohol use, independent of other risk factors, contributes to the risk of developing future alcohol problems. Those who begin drinking in their early teens are not only at greater risk of developing alcohol dependence at some point in their lives but also at greater risk of developing dependence more quickly, not to mention chronic, relapsing dependence. Among all of those surveyed who developed alcoholism at some point, almost half (47 percent) met the diagnostic criteria for alcohol dependence (alcoholism) by the age of 21.
Meanwhile, the CDC reports that alcohol is responsible for more than 4,300 annual deaths among underage youth. Aside from dying, kids who drink alcohol are more likely to have unprotected sex, be physically or sexually assaulted, abuse other drugs and kill themselves. Those who start drinking before the age of 15 are five times more likely to develop alcohol dependence or abuse later in life than those who begin drinking at or after the age of 21.
So back to these parents. Is it just that they don’t know better? Parents are likely to think, “Not my kid.” They surely also think, “What’s the harm?” And that might be the case, but what if it’s not? What if their kid has a brain that responds differently to drugs and alcohol—a brain, that is, of an alcoholic or addict? You think your kid isn’t going to be an alcoholic or addict because you aren’t? Your kid is too smart for that? Unfortunately, that’s not under your control.
The social acceptance of underage drinking and the importance and reliance our society puts on alcohol is a problem that is killing our youth, and if the change isn’t going to start at home, then where? Parents need to provide teens with guidance and the proper tools to make good decisions, not a six-pack.