I get asked this a lot, and I usually pose the question back, "Why do you feel the need to do so?" I’ve heard many reasons why parents think it’s a good idea to drink with their teens: “We want to keep an eye on them.” ”At least I know they are safe.” “There’s a better chance that they will be responsible around us.” "We want to be their friends too!" As an Addiction Counsellor, I hear it all. I also see the fallout of allowing kids free range when it comes to alcohol and drugs, and so ultimately, I give the idea of drinking with your teens a huge NO.
It’s not uncommon to have parents in my office questioning how their 25-year-old son or daughter could have gone down a road of addiction. When we pull back the blinds, we generally find many early signs that were ignored, or not seen as a problem at the time. The 40-year-old that “recreationally” used cocaine, and overdosed on Fentanyl, did not just begin to use cocaine out of the blue. There is a history.
Now, I’m not suggesting every teen that tries alcohol will overdose on fentanyl. There are many teens whom do not develop problem drinking because of this topic (I would say, 'Why take a chance?') But let’s look at some truths about underage drinking. Many studies have been done on this topic, and the majority speak of the immense danger and damage that alcohol and drugs do to the developing teenage brain. As the teen continues to experiment, their brain becomes accustomed to the euphoria, and begins to seek it. Alcohol or drugs begin to provide pleasure and relief to high school norms such as uncomfortable situations or difficult emotions. This pathway in the pleasure and learning areas of the brain are reinforced with every return to the mood-altering substance. Excited? Bored? Sad? Smoke pot. Stressed? Lonely? Happy? Get drunk.
Believe it or not, studies show teens DO listen to their elders and gain insight into their own actions by watching their adult’s relationships with alcohol and drugs. Have they seen their parents drinking in excess most weekends? Do they see their parents drinking or getting high everyday after work? These unhealthy patterns of drinking or using become normal for the learning teen. In addition, there are many legal implications when it comes to giving alcohol or drugs to minors, which I’ll save for another discussion.
The disease of Addiction can stem from many different influences: Genetics (is there alcohol problems in your family tree?), trauma (from abuse to separated family unit), starting early in life, continuous use or binge episodes, drug or drink the norm in the household…the list goes on. Put a couple of those together, and the chances of a teen having a Substance Use Disorder at an early age is highly likely.
What can you do about it?
Have a serious discussion with yourself about your own relationship with alcohol. Below is a chart that can help. If you are averaging a drink everyday - that's more than 80% of the population consumes. Maybe it’s time to cut down or stop altogether.
Get educated along with your children. Learn that addiction is not just the people that find themselves on the street. Two-thirds of alcoholics have full time careers, families, responsibilities. 1 out of 4 families are directly impacted by Substance Use Disorder.
Talk to your kids about what is ok, and what is not. This doesn’t mean that they won’t try - It means that you will have rules about it. Be prepared to establish consequences.
Model appropriate behaviour when drinking. How often do you drink? Are your kids learning that popping a bottle of wine cures a rough day at work or home? Are they learning that anytime a friend comes over is a time to down a few? A binge episode is considered 5 drinks for a male and 4 for a female in a 4 hour period. Show your teens that it’s possible to drink responsibly without it getting out of hand.