For many teenagers, May only means one thing – the start of prom season! Now more than ever is the time to candidly talk to your teens about the dangers of underage drinking which is often so prevalent during prom time.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), underage drinking is very prevalent among teens. Alcohol is their drug of choice. Almost three-fourths of teenagers reported drinking alcohol by the end of 12th grade. According to a national survey from the U.S. Department of Justice, 90% of teens binge drink when they consume alcohol. Underage drinkers will drink less frequently than adults but consume more alcoholic drinks each time they drink. The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) reports that about 30,000 students a year are seen in emergency rooms for alcohol overdose, a common problem associated with underage binge drinking.
Another big risk of drinking is impaired driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) 11,000 people a year die in alcohol related car crashes. That is about 1 person every 48 minutes. Renting a limo for your teens during prom doesn’t solve this problem. In fact, it seems complicit and might send the message that you are condoning their drinking. Parents sometimes do actually contribute to this problem by both looking the other way, seeing it as a rite of passage or even worse, supplying alcohol during parties. The same NIAAA survey above found that over 40% of underage drinkers report they got their alcohol from an adult.
Driving is not the only danger from underage drinking. There are other serious risks to consider related to teen drinking. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), high school students who drink were more likely to participate in risky sexual activity resulting in unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. They were more likely to be victims of physical and sexual assault as well as being at higher risk for suicides and homicides. Alcohol can potentially cause life-long problems and interfere with normal physical development of the adolescent brain as well as disrupt normal physical and sexual development. There is also the potential become dependent on alcohol to then go on to use and abuse other drugs.
As a doctor and parent, I ask you to talk to your kids about underage drinking. Tell them you are worried about their safety. Be frank about the statistics and facts listed above. Let them know drinking to much at once, especially in first time drinkers, can lead to high blood-alcohol levels that can cause unconsciousness and death. Provide them with strategies on how to navigate their peer pressure and resist getting into vehicles of drunken friends. Tell them you will be there to get them no questions asked if they’re in a situation that becomes dangerous or uncomfortable. Let them know that their prom should be something they remember always – but for the right reason.