Teenage Attitudes to Alcohol Intoxication
What to do when your teen thinks drinking to get drunk is normal
‘Binge drinking’ is also known as ‘drinking to get drunk‘. Sometimes people try to define binge drinking by saying that it means ‘someone drinking a particular number of drinks’, usually more than recommended in the healthy drinking guidelines. However, ‘binge drinking’ isn’t about a number of drinks, it’s about intent, i.e., specifically going out drinking to “get wasted”. You are more likely to reach dangerous levels of intoxication, be less capable of looking after yourself and more likely to take dangerous risks.
Binge drinking receives a great deal of media attention and it is therefore no surprise that our teenagers believe that is the norm. There is no denying that there are many young people who drink in a risky way, but it is also important to try to remember that there are many teenagers who are trying their best to keep themselves and their friends as safe as possible.
Australian research shows that in 2010 around 19% of 16-17 year olds drank in a risky or high risk way, monthly. Let’s flip that around and remember that this means that 81% don’t! There is the perception that nowadays binge drinking has become pretty much the norm for teenagers. Binge drinking is dangerous and even if there is only the minority who are doing it, they are still loud, obvious and very influential!
We are also now hearing about young people ‘pre-loading’ to save money. This involves quickly drinking large amounts of alcohol at home before heading out. Often they are already intoxicated before they walk out the front door. The problem with pre-loading is that it is high risk and by the time they get to where they are going their judgment is clouded by alcohol, causing them to drink more than they intended to, so they don’t save money in the end anyway.
Your job as a parent is to get your children to recognise and respect the risks associated with harmful, irresponsible drinking. Unfortunately, it sounds easier than it is. But here are some tips to help get you started.
- Drink responsibly. Young children will mimic adult behaviours. So take the opportunity to display responsible drinking attitudes whenever possible. For example:
- Don’t glorify drinking and intoxication
- Encourage friends and family to be good role models
- Avoid people and places that will have a negative impact on your developing child’s attitude
- Encourage non-alcoholic family gatherings
- Educate and communicate. Talk to your child about alcohol intoxication and the dangers of binge drinking in particular. Explain the importance of adults ‘drinking responsibly’ and don’t be afraid to answer their questions.
- Provide positive norms. Don’t be afraid to challenge social myths about binge drinking. Most young people don’t drink in this way. If your child sees a news story that states that ‘two out of every ten Australian teenagers binge drink’, it’s up to you to turn it around and point out that eight out of ten don’t!
- Find out what is going on. If your child really believes that getting drunk every weekend is normal then there could possibly be other things going on. The vast majority of kids of this age want to have fun with their friends, and experimenting with alcohol may play a major role in this and perhaps there are other influences in their lives (e.g. peers, older siblings or relatives) or problems that you are unaware of. Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions.
- Seek professional help. If you are worried that your teenager’s behaviour is getting out of control, speak to your GP about the problem and ask for a referral to a health professional who has expertise in this area. This may be an adolescent or clinical psychologist. You could also talk to the school counsellor and let them know you need help.