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First Exposure

The PATS study also indicates that youth are starting to drink at a younger age with about 10 percent of nine-year-olds reporting they had consumed more than a sip of alcohol. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) reports that one-third of children, ages 12 to 17, had their first drink before 13. Very young drinkers are becoming a major concern. Unfortunately, this trend will have serious consequences in the future since research from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism indicates that children who begin drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to have drinking problems than those who start drinking at age 21 or later.

Entry Drug 40% will try by the time they reached 8th grade.

Signs and Symptoms

While the signs of drug and alcohol use vary from person to person, some basic characteristics are common among most users. Slurred speech, coordination loss and red eyes are common signs of drunkenness. Chronic alcohol abuse often causes changes in mood, such as irritability or depression, as well as worsening performance in school and extracurricular activities.

Changes in appetite, sleeping patterns and energy levels are common signs of drug abuse. Depending on the drug, changes can include an increase or decrease in appetite, more or less sleeping, and excessive sedation or stimulation. The presence of paraphernalia like rolling papers, plastic baggies and syringes are tell-tale signs of drug use that require immediate action.

Possible risks:

  • Dependence. People who reported starting to drink before the age of 15 were four times more likely to also report meeting the criteria for alcohol dependence at some point in their lives. In fact, new research shows that the serious drinking problems (including what is called alcoholism) typically associated with middle age actually begin to appear much earlier, during young adulthood and even adolescence.
  • Illicit drug use. More than 67 percent of young people who start drinking before the age of 15 will try an illicit drug. Children who drink are over 7 times more likely to use any illicit drug, are over 22 times more likely to use marijuana, and 50 times more likely to use cocaine than children who never drink.
  • Sexual activity. Alcohol use by teens is a strong predictor of both sexual activity and unprotected sex. A survey of high school students found that 18 percent of females and 39 percent of males say it is acceptable for a boy to force sex if the girl is high or drunk.
  • Violence. Children who start drinking before age 15 are 12 times more likely to be injured while under the influence of alcohol and 10 times more likely to be in a fight after drinking, compared with those who wait until they are 21 to drink.
  • School. Student substance abuse is a risk factor for, academic problems, such as lower grades, absenteeism and high dropout rates. Alcohol can interfere with a student’s ability to think, making learning and concentration more difficult and ultimately impeding academic performance. In fact, the more a student uses alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, the lower his grade point average is likely to be and the more likely he is to drop out of school.

What you can do?

Parents can take the following steps to encourage their children to abstain from alcohol:

  • Spend time together regularly.
  • Listen and talk with your children. Try to understand the pressures placed on them and don’t criticize their beliefs.
  • Keep track of where your children are, what they are doing, and who their friends are.
  • Get them involved in after-school activities so they won’t be able to just “hang out” with friends in the afternoon. This is when children are most likely to experiment.
  • Praise or reward children often. Positive reinforcement matters. If they feel good about themselves, they will be more confident and better able to resist peer pressure.
  • Be a positive role model for your children. Don’t abuse alcohol or drugs.
  • Emphasize what alcohol/drug use can do to your teen’s future. Teens look ahead and think about their future. Discuss how substance use can ruin your teen’s chance of getting into the college she’s been dreaming about, landing the job she’s perfect for etc. Don’t be vague. Give real examples of teens who used alcohol, posted photos on Facebook and were kicked off a sports team or had a college admission rescinded.
  • Keep Talking.  Talk often about the dangers of drug and alcohol use and about your expectations. Scenarios change as your child ages. Continue to discuss different possible scenarios so they are prepared with an action plan if any arise.
  • Every day, they may be faced with “re-deciding” about substance abuse. Talking about substance abuse should continue through the teen years even into college.

Conversation starters:

  • Do you know that it is illegal to drink before you are 21?
  • What do you think would happen if you were caught by police drinking alcohol?
  • There is research that shows that drinking before age 21 changed your brain?  How does that make you feel?


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