Sunday, May 24, 2009

So we know they're drinking. Now what?

This week I hosted a group of nine local moms in my office to chat about the realities of alcohol and our kids. We talked about how the "just say no" campaign does not really appear to have worked so well. The numbers of kids drinking and the frequency and amounts consumed are remarkable, as recent surveys and my office contact with kids show.

A few random but important points emerged from our conversation:
  • The debate about lowering the drinking age back to 18 is a real one, especially on college campuses (and initiated by college administrators)
  • The culture among teens has become one of binge drinking, often with the goal being drunkenness, just shy (hopefully) of illness.
  • We need to consider carefully the value of "teaching our kids how to consume alcohol" even if that takes place in our own homes and with us before they go off to college.
  • We need to look at how we adults consume alcohol. Recent US government-sponsored programs are helping folks Rethink drinking
  • Data shows that binge drinking before age 16 increases the risk of alcoholism in a vulnerable child by eight fold.
  • It is possible to enforce certain absolutes: curfew time, checking in upon returning home; never, ever, driving after drinking; protecting friends from dangerous alcohol poisoning or vulnerable social situations;holding off on drinking altogether until at least age 16 (or more).
  • It is possible to teach some safe drinking rules without endorsing illegal imbibing. Kids should be taught to avoid alcohol when tired, depressed, hungry, angry, thirsty, sad, or alone.
There are no easy answers to this problem. But it is worth considering the merits of a "risk reduction" approach to alcohol and teens rather than avoidance of the issue or punishments that do not teach or lead to underground, even more worrisome activities. Cheers!


  1. Great post, I believe that teaching teens to be responsible with alcohol is the best approach. I've allowed my daughter to have the occasional drink or glass of wine at home and as a result she avoids the weekend "drinking parties" that most of her friends all attend. She knows if she wants to drink she can drink at home and has no desire to engaage in risky behavior outside the house.

  2. Thank you for your reasoned advice concerning the serious problem of binge drinking. It is not surprising that an unrealistic, dogmatic response to the issue of teen drinking is defeating - "just say no" works about as well as the abstinence only approach to sex ed. I was particularly struck by your very specific advice on when not to drink: when depressed, angry, tired, etc. Helps enormously to be armed with specifics like this when talking to our kids.