Let’s Talk About It - Making Healthy Choices Around Alcohol
Posted by Colleen O'Neil on 6/21/2022
With summer break in full swing, I wanted to take some time to talk about a topic that is often overlooked when there is discussion around teen substance use: teen alcohol use.
Teen alcohol use can sometimes be viewed as a “right of passage” and for this reason, along with the fact that it is socially acceptable and next to impossible to ignore, we are often sending the wrong message to both teens and adults. Honestly, there is much work to do around educating our teens and adults when it comes to alcohol use. Let’s talk about it.
There are so many reasons one may begin drinking alcohol. For our teens, the ages between 11-18 can be an impressionable period of time when they are more susceptible to outside influences such as friends and social media. Life transitions such as moving between schools, family changes such as divorce, or a breakup in a relationship may fuel fears and increase anxiety and depression which can often lead to drinking in the hopes of alleviating any of these feelings. Stress is also a huge culprit. Fitting in, looking the right way, doing well in school and/or at work — these are all areas that can create a great deal of stress which often may lead to drinking in order to feel “better.”
What can parents/guardians do to help their teen as they deal with life challenges without turning to alcohol or other substances? Begin having conversations around substance use and healthy choices at an early age. Not sure about how to start the conversation? Here is a guide from SAMSHA (Substance Use and Mental Health Administration) that gives some great suggestions on doing just that — starting the conversation. Remember, it’s better to have 60 one-minute conversations than having one 60-minute conversation. Being prepared to answer questions will be key as well. I highly recommend the SAMSHA guide as a great resource to help you find the right way to be honest, yet careful, when confronted with questions about choices you may have made when you were a teenager.
Also, it is important to be aware. Be aware of changes and don’t be afraid to ask questions. SAMSHA has another great tip sheet that I encourage you to reference. This will help you be more aware of changes in your child. While not all changes point to substance use, it is worth knowing how to navigate if substance use is of concern.
No matter the situation, if your child has been drinking it is important to remember: remain CALM. What does that mean?
C - Control your thoughts and actions.
A - Assess and decide if you are too upset to continue.
L - Leave the situation if you are feeling too angry/upset.
M - Make a plan to deal with the situation.
As parents we are emotionally invested in our children. Due to our own life experiences, we tend to react to such news out of fear, pain, anger and frustration. While that is often not our intention, this is typical as to how it may play out. Before you know it, negative emotions are being felt by all and effective communication is non-existent, creating a challenging environment where no one gets anywhere and all parties feel hurt.
If this sounds familiar, you are not alone. A great resource on how to communicate effectively can be found here.
Alcohol, in moderation, as an adult, poses no reason for concern. Alcohol, in any capacity, as a teenager, raises concerns and can lead to some serious challenges if left unchecked. My hope is you feel comfortable enough to have the conversation with your child. Knowledge is powerful, so share your knowledge.
As always, my hope is that you have enough information at your fingertips to help your student and if given the opportunity, you can say, “Let’s Talk About It!”
Colleen O’Neil, LADC, CPP
Anoka-Hennepin School District Chemical Health Prevention Specialist