Cocaine, marijuana or alcohol? Concerned adults would agree children should not be experimenting with any of these. Which one would parents prefer their children to use, though? Some parents are relieved when they find out their child is “just” drinking alcohol and not using drugs. It is a myth that alcohol is a “better” drug. Alcohol abuse, drunk driving, and alcohol-related diseases take a major toll on our society, and children who begin drinking at a young age are at much higher risk of developing problems.

May and June are celebratory months with proms and graduations parties galore. We would like to believe our youth will stay away from alcohol, but the reality is, many of them will drink. It behooves us to remind them of the fatal consequences drinking and driving can have.

The Facts

Below are some facts from the NYS Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services that prove alcohol is not the “safer” drug:

  • Underage drinking accounts for 12% of all alcohol sales in the U.S., or approximately 3.6 billion drinks per year.
  • Alcohol is the most commonly used drug among adolescents. By their senior year of high school, nearly 4 out of 5 students (78%) have consumed alcohol.
  • Adolescents who drink are likely to be heavy drinkers or binge drinkers (defined as 5 or more drinks in one sitting).
  • Heavy drinking is reported by 12% of eighth graders, 22% of tenth graders, 29% of twelfth graders and 40% of college students.
  • A majority of young people do not drink or do not drink regularly.
  • A national study shows that just 17.6% of youth age 12-17 drank alcohol in the 30 days prior to the survey.

The Power of Parents/Caregivers

Parents often feel there’s not much they can say or do to influence the decision their children will make regarding alcohol and drug use. But research tells us differently. Parents are the most powerful influence in their child’s life and the biggest deterrent to their child’s drug and alcohol use. Children whose parents teach them about the risks of drug or alcohol use are 36% less likely to smoke marijuana than kids who don’t and 50% less likely to use inhalants, 56% less likely to use cocaine, and 65% less likely to use LSD (SAMHSA).

What else can a parent do to help their child make the right decision regarding drugs and alcohol? The Office of National Drug Control Policy (SAMHSA) states communication with and involvement in a child’s life is key. It is recommend that parents:

Get Involved – Kids who are close to their parents are least likely to engage in risky behaviors. The more involved you are in your children’s lives, the more valued they’ll feel, and the more likely they’ll be to respond to you.

Learn to Communicate – Do you know your kids’ favorite music group or the lyrics of their favorite songs? (Go to lyrics.com to find out the thoughts of young people) What’s cool at school? The more you communicate, the more at ease your child will feel about discussing drugs and other sensitive issues with you.

Walk the Walk – Be a role model; the person you want your kid to be. What stronger anti-drug message is there?

Lay Down the Law – Kids between 11-13 yrs old who are highly at risk for drug experimentation – are increasingly independent. Despite their protests, they still crave structure and guidance; they want you to show them you care enough to set limits.

Praise and Reward – What encourages a kid more than his or her parents’ approval? The right word at the right time can strengthen the bond that helps keep your child away from drugs.