Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sue Scheff: "Supervised" Underage Drinking

Source: Connnect with Kids

It's kind of like [parents] open the door as soon as you get to the party, and they have a bowl to the side where they take your keys before you even start drinking.”

– Cameron Herron, 19

New research from Penn State University reports that high school kids who aren’t allowed to drink alcohol are far less likely to drink heavily when they get to college. This contradicts the conventional wisdom that forbidding alcohol turns it into a kind of “forbidden fruit” that causes kids to go wild in college.

But still, every year there are parents who break the law: they host a party and serve teens alcohol.

How often does this happen? According to teens, all the time.

“It’s kind of like they open the door as soon as you get to the party,” says 19-year-old Cameron Herron, “and they have a bowl to the side where they take your keys before you even start drinking.”

Why do some parents allow underage drinking?

“Because they would rather it be at their house and for them to have the control,” answers 19-year-old Marlena Flesner, “and for them to know where their kids are.”

“I hear that a lot,” says Dr. Michael Fishman, an addiction specialist, “and the fallacy is ‘to keep the kids safe’.”

That’s the assumption, but is it true? Is it really safer when kids drink with adult supervision?

“I’ve been at parties where I’ve seen a mom say, ‘hey, this kid is a little too drunk - no more for him,’” says 19-year-old Anthony Machalette.

The problem, kids say, is that sometimes there is no supervision.

“And it was pretty much all of us downstairs partying,” recalls 19-year-old Ryan Soto. “The parents are upstairs doing - nothing. They just kind of minded their own business and let us have a party downstairs.”

“Usually they are not around,” agrees Marlena Flesner. “They just kind of host it and sometimes buy the alcohol - or they just allow it.

And often, the kids start drinking at home - but they don’t stay there.

“In fact, some people are going to leave that house intoxicated,” says Dr. Fishman.

“It was a lot of the wealthy parents who had a big house,” says 20-year-old Jessica Holt, about one party she attended. “A lot of people could come. They wouldn’t collect keys or anything.”

Finally, experts say, allowing kids to drink at home sends a message.

“You’re introducing a lifestyle to your 15, 16, 17 year old and that lifestyle is alcohol. And so by allowing them to drink in your home, you’re basically giving them permission to drink in the world at large and any time they’d like,” explains Stacey DeWitt, President of Connect with Kids.

She says it’s easier for kids to say no if you make a stand against underage drinking that is loud and clear.

“I know my mother would kick my behind if I was drinking underage,” says 20-year-old Erin Smith.

Tips for Parents

Research shows that adolescents may be more vulnerable to brain damage from excessive drinking than older drinkers. Alcohol impairs brain activity in the receptors responsible for memory and learning, and young people who binge drink could be facing serious brain damage today and increased memory loss in years to come. If one begins drinking at an early age, he/she is more likely to face alcohol addiction. Consider the following …

■Imaging studies have revealed a connection between heavy drinking and physical brain damage.
■Neither chronic liver disease nor alcohol-induced dementia, the most common symptoms of severe alcoholism, need be present for alcohol-induced, physical brain damage to occur.
■Alcohol-induced brain damage usually includes extensive shrinkage in the cortex of the frontal lobe, which is the site of higher intellectual functions.
■Shrinkage has also been observed in deeper brain regions, including the cerebellum, which helps regulate coordination and balance, and brain structures associated with memory.
■Alcohol abstinence has shown positive results. Even three to four weeks without alcohol can reverse effects on memory loss and problem-solving skills.

Adolescents have a better chance of recovery because they have greater powers of recuperation. If you suspect your child has alcohol-related brain damage, it is imperative to have him or her assessed by a medical doctor or psychologist. Treatment depends on the individual and the type of brain damage sustained. People with impaired brain function can be helped. Often it is necessary to reduce the demands placed on the patient. Also, a predictable routine covering all daily activities can help. Consider the following points when easing your child’s routine …

■Simplify information. Present one idea at a time.
■Tackle one problem at a time.
■Allow your child to progress at his or her own pace.
■Minimize distractions.
■Avoid stressful situations.
■Structure a schedule with frequent breaks and rest periods.
■Consider joining an alcoholism support group.

■Alcoholism Home Page
■Better Health Channel
■National Youth Violence Prevention Center
■Psychological Assessment Research and Treatment Services