This booklet is primarily concerned with preventing teen alcohol use. We also need to pay attention to the possibility of youthful alcohol abuse. Certain children are more likely than others to drink heavily and encounter alcohol-related difficulties, including health, school, legal, family, and emotional problems. Kids at highest risk for alcohol-related problems are those who:
-Begin using alcohol or other drugs before the age of 15.
-Have a parent who is a problem drinker or an alcoholic.
-Have close friends who use alcohol and/or other drugs.
-Have been aggressive, antisocial, or hard to control from an early age.
-Have experienced childhood abuse and/or other major traumas.
-Have current behavioral problems and/or are failing at school.
-Have parents who do not support them, do not communicate openly with them, and do not keep track of their behavior or whereabouts.
-Experience ongoing hostility or rejection from parents and/or harsh, inconsistent discipline.
The more of these experiences a child has had, the greater the chances that he or she will develop problems with alcohol. Having one or more risk factors does not mean that your child definitely will develop a drinking problem, but it does suggest that you may need to act now to help protect your youngster from later problems.
Talking with your child is more important now than ever. If your child has serious behavioral problems, you may want to seek help from his or her school counselor, physician, and/or a mental health professional. And if you suspect that your child may be in trouble with drinking, consider getting advice from a health care professional specializing in alcohol problems before talking with your teen (see box "Warning Signs of a Drinking Problem"). To find a professional, contact your family doctor or a local hospital. Other sources of information and guidance may be found in your local Yellow Pages under "Alcoholism" or through one of the resources listed at the end of this booklet.
WARNING SIGNS OF A DRINKING PROBLEM
Although the following signs may indicate a problem with alcohol or other drugs, some also reflect normal teenage growing pains. Experts believe that a drinking problem is more likely if you notice several of these signs at the same time, if they occur suddenly, and if some of them are extreme in nature.
-Mood changes: flare-ups of temper, irritability, and defensiveness.
-School problems: poor attendance, low grades, and/or recent disciplinary action.
-Rebelling against family rules.
-Switching friends, along with a reluctance to have you get to know the new friends.
-A "nothing matters" attitude: sloppy appearance, a lack of involvement in former interests, and general low energy.
-Finding alcohol in your child's room or backpack, or smelling alcohol on his or her breath.
-Physical or mental problems: memory lapses, poor concentration, bloodshot eyes, lack of coordination, or slurred speech.
-Establish a loving, trusting relationship with your child.
-Make it easy for your teen to talk honestly with you.
-Talk with your child about alcohol facts, reasons not to drink, and ways to avoid drinking in difficult situations.
-Keep tabs on your young teen's activities, and join with other parents in making common policies about teen alcohol use.
-Develop family rules about teen drinking and establish consequences.
-Set a good example regarding your own alcohol use and your response to teen drinking.
-Encourage your child to develop healthy friendships and fun alternatives to drinking.
-Know whether your child is at high risk for a drinking problem; if so, take steps to lessen that risk.
-Know the warning signs of a teen drinking problem and act promptly to get help for your child.
-Believe in your own power to help your child avoid alcohol use.