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Home for the Holidays: Prime Time for Underage Drinking

November 07, 2014  |  Falmouth Enterprise

Dr. Michael Bihari

Now that Halloween is over and we’re coming down from our sugar highs, it’s time to face the upcoming winter holiday season that stretches from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day and beyond. Although this time is often filled with wonderful family moments — sharing a Thanksgiving meal, lighting Hanukah candles, or trimming the Christmas tree — it’s also (after the summer months) prime time for underage drinking.  

College students will be making their way back home for the holiday break, which means holiday parties with friends — alcohol is often a part of that celebration. And, following the lead of some adults, including their parents, teens and young adults may be tempted to end the year and ring in the new one by celebrating with alcohol.  

A Dangerous Myth

Parents who think that letting their teens drink at home, and teaching them to drink “responsibly” will keep them safe, are mistaken. So, what is the harm in letting your teen drink during the holidays:

  • A teen who starts drinking before age 15 is four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence and is two and a half times more likely to become an abuser of alcohol than someone who begins drinking at age 21.
  • The brains of teenagers continue to develop until they reach their early 20s.  Alcohol can damage long and short-term brain growth during this time, impairing memory, learning and judgment.
  • Teens who drink are more likely to do poorly in school, commit or be the victim of violence (including sexual assault), be involved in car crashes, and experience stress, depression, and suicidal thoughts. 

Social Host Laws

A recent study, “Relationships Between Social Host Laws and Underage Drinking” (published in the November 2014 issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs), notes that teens living in communities with strong social host laws are less likely to drink at parties. 

According to a press release about the study, “A growing number of communities and states are enacting these social host laws to prevent and reduce underage drinking in private settings. Laws that include strict liability and civil penalties were associated with reduced consumption of alcohol among adolescents in private settings, particularly among youth who had previously consumed alcohol.” 

The social host law in Massachusetts is clear: whoever furnishes alcohol to a person under 21 years of age shall be punished by a fine up to $2,000 or imprisonment for up to a year or both. It will be on you...

  • if your teen is caught with alcohol
  • if your teen gets arrested
  • if your teen has a car accident
  • if your teen injures themselves or others 

Before allowing your teen to drink or have a party in your home where alcohol will be served it’s important to understand the possible consequences. 

Reality Versus Myth

Some parents allow their teens to drink at home and may allow a party where alcohol is served. Although well-intentioned, doing so presents a legal danger for you as a parent and a serious health risk for your teen.

MYTH: It’s OK as long as they don’t drive.

REALITY: Only one-third of underage drinking deaths involve auto crashes.  The remaining two-thirds involve alcohol poisoning, homicides, suicides, and unintentional injuries such as burns, drowning, and falls.   

MYTH: Providing alcohol to your teen at home decreases the risk for continued drinking as your adolescent gets older, and subsequent drinking problems later in life. 

REALITY: The opposite is true – supplying alcohol to a minor actually increases, rather than decreases the risk for continued drinking in the teen years and can lead to problem drinking later in life.

MYTH: Being ‘too strict’ about adolescent drinking during high school will cause teens to drink more when they first leave home and do not have parental oversight.  

REALITY: Research shows that teens who perceive their parents to be more permissive about alcohol use are more likely to abuse alcohol. More than half of high school students who say their parents allow them to drink at home – even just occasionally – report that they drink elsewhere with their friends, as compared to just 14 percent of teens whose parents don’t let them drink at home.

Underage Drinking Prevention

During the past six years, the Falmouth Prevention Partnership has established several community-based programs to help prevent underage drinking among Falmouth youth. These include:

Parents Who Host Lose The Most is a public awareness campaign to provide parents with accurate information about the health risks of underage drinking and the legal consequences of providing alcohol to youth. The campaign encourages parents and the community to send a unified message that teen alcohol consumption is not acceptable — it is illegal, unsafe, and unhealthy for anyone under the age of 21 to drink alcohol.

Project Sticker Shock On November 22 the Partnership will host its eighth Project Sticker Shock event.  Dozens of volunteers will spend their morning at 18 Falmouth liquor stores placing 10,000 stickers on wine and beer bags and putting up posters. The stickers and posters have a common message: “Parents Who Host Lose the Most: Don’t be a party to teenage drinking.” The objective is to encourage customers not to purchase alcohol for minors, and to remind them that it is illegal to do so. It also reminds parents not to host parties where alcohol is available to underage youth—especially during celebratory times such as the upcoming fall and winter holidays.

During the Holidays, Enjoy Family Meals

The holiday season is a time for gathering. Your kids are on school break, college kids may be home for a month or more, and your older children may be visiting with their partners and your grandchildren. Family meals are a great way to reconnect and to share accomplishments and disappointments. 

Regular family meals can be especially beneficial for your teens. Research studies have documented that teens who take part in regular  meals with their families are less likely to drink alcohol, use marijuana, or smoke cigarettes. And during those meals, turn off the TV and leave the smart phones and iPads in another room!  

As a parent, you have the power to help your teens avoid alcohol. Talk with your teens about the risks of underage drinking and set clear expectations for behavior. And, most important, set a good example by showing your teens that adults don’t need alcohol to celebrate. Your teen will be less likely to use alcohol, and more likely to enjoy a healthy new year.

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