Parents around the country will be waving goodbye to their kids on New Year’s Eve, wishing them a good time and praying they will return home safely from a night of celebration.
The sad fact is that not all of them will.
Last year the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administrations (SAMHSA) found that almost 2,000 emergency room visits on Jan. 1, 2009, were related to under-age drinking.
That is more than a 250 percent increase from the national average daily rate, 190 percent more than Memorial Day celebrations, and 110 percent more than on Independence Day.
So what is a parent to do?
First, tell your child that under-age drinking is illegal.
It is a message that bears repeating. Remind them of your expectations as well as the risks that drinking poses to their health, welfare and future plans. Review laws on under-age drinking and under-age drinking and driving. Virginia is noted for having strict laws about drinking and driving, and for strictly enforcing them.
In spite of best efforts to the contrary, many kids will choose to drink anyway. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 72 percent of kids have consumed alcohol by the time they graduate high school, and 37 percent had already done so by eighth grade. Fully 11 percent of alcohol consumed in the US is consumed by under-age drinkers, age 12 - 20, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Additionally, car accidents are the leading cause of death among 16 - 19 year olds. They are, per mile driven, four times more likely to crash than an adult. That number increases, of course, when the young driver is under the influence of alcohol.
Separately and certainly combined, these are sobering statistics. They make it all the more imperative for a parent to stress and help facilitate safe passage home at the end of the night.
- You can help ensure that your child has taxi phone numbers loaded in their cell phone.
- Leave an envelope with cab fare on the kitchen table. Stress the importance of a drink-free designated driver.
- Reinforce that, if for any reason, the ride falls through, it is imperative that your child call you or a taxi to get home safely rather than getting in the car with someone who has been drinking or with a stranger who has not.
Binge drinking compounds the under-age drinking issue – and New Year’s Eve celebration -- even further. Statistics indicate that 90 percent of under-age drinking (12 - 20 years) is binge drinking.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol (BAC) to .08 grams percent or above. For men, this typically means consuming five or more drinks in two hours. For women, this is likely to mean consuming four or more drinks in two hours. In colloquial terms, it is drinking in rapid succession over a short period of time with the intention of becoming drunk.
Binge drinking means many kids drink to get drunk and lose control.
It is critical for you to have tough conversations with your kids.
Second, speak to your child about what it means to drink responsibly, if they choose to drink against the law and against your wishes.
It may seem counter-intuitive to educate our children on what it means to drink responsibly. As with sex, however, while a parent may instruct and prefer their children resist sexual temptation, it is necessary to teach our children – if they choose to have sex anyway – to engage responsibly. So it is with alcohol. As parents, we instruct and prefer our child to abstain. However, if your child chooses to drink, it is essential that they know how to do so responsibly.
This means shifting the object of drinking from getting drunk to enjoying relaxation and reduced inhibition that comes with one drink per hour; shifting the goal from losing control to maintain control and enjoying oneself.
In addition to expressing your personal viewpoint and the laws, it is essential to educate your child to the risks of binge drinking. These include, but are certainly not limited to:
- Unintentional injuries (such as a car crashes, falls, burns, drowning);
- Intentional injuries (firearm injuries, sexual assault, domestic violence);
- Alcohol poisoning;
- Sexually transmitted diseases;
- Unintended pregnancy, as well as a child born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
Educate your child that blackouts – or memory lapses – are signs of acute intoxication. The NIAAA notes that this is a result of drinking too much, too quickly, causing the blood alcohol level to rise very rapidly. This is of particular concern for college students as, according to NIAA, an alarming number of college students are engaging in binge drinking. Women are at greater risk of fatality when black-outs occur.
Educate your child that vomiting is the body’s defense against an overdose. It is a sign there is too much alcohol in the body which cannot be processed or absorbed. Let them know that these signs, which are commonly ignored or laughed away, are signs of too much alcohol in the system.
Educate your child:
- To never get in the car with a driver who has been drinking – or to drink and drive.
- That the designated driver is someone who does not drink any alcohol.
- That responsible drinking may mean taking one drink in an hour and alternating each alcoholic drink with at least one non-alcoholic drink.
- To have food in their stomach when they drink.
- To slow the pace of drinking significantly.
- To know what is in their drink and to stick with one standard-sized drink.
- To the hazards of sweet drinks which mask alcoholic content.
- On how to get space and say no when they don’t want anymore.
- On the increased risk of regrettable sexual decisions as well as sexual assault.
- To have a network of supportive friends who will help look out for their best interests.
Educate your child. It could save a life on New Year’s Eve and in the New Year.