The winter holidays are a time to enjoy the company of family, friends and co-workers. Where does substance use fit into this picture?
The widespread availability of alcohol at holiday parties gives our youth many opportunities to sneak alcohol when no one is looking, or convince a relative to let them enjoy “just one” alcoholic beverage. And some parents may be more inclined to let their teenagers have an alcoholic drink to share in a family toast, or otherwise share in the “holiday spirits.”
So, you might ask, where is the harm in that? Let’s make a list.
- The younger a child is when he/she starts to drink, the more likely there will be alcohol-related problems later in life.
- Alcohol use by teens affects still-developing brains and impairs memory and learning.
- Teens who drink are more likely to commit or be the victim of violence (including sexual assault) and to experience stress, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
By allowing underage drinking during the holidays, adults deprive teens of clear, common sense and consistent guidelines they need to make good choices all year long. It is clear that parents who talk with their teens about underage drinking, set expectations for behavior, and enforce consequences for violating the rules are significantly less likely to have children who use alcohol. The silver lining in this holiday cloud can be found in widespread agreement among teens that their parents are significant forces when it comes to decisions about alcohol.
There are some simple things that you can do to lessen the exposure of your children to holiday substances. Consider these holiday celebration tips:
- At your holiday gatherings, offer plenty of non-alcoholic foods, drinks and activities.
- Model responsible behavior by making sure that guests who have been drinking do not drive.
- Let your child know what to expect. Tell your children that adults may be drinking alcohol during the holidays, but under no circumstances are they allowed to.
- To lower the risk of alcohol poisoning, be sure to empty partially-full alcoholic drinks. Children love to imitate adults; if they have access to leftover drinks they may be tempted. Children are much more sensitive to alcohol than adults. Alcohol is found in beer, wine and distilled liquor, such as vodka, whiskey, rum or bourbon. It is also in perfumes, aftershave lotions, and mouthwashes. Vanilla and almond extracts also have high alcohol content. Make sure to keep all of these products out of the reach of children.
- Parents, grandparents and babysitters should also be extra vigilant during the holidays. Visitors often leave medicines on a nightstand or in the bathroom, making them easily accessible to children. Medications given to senior citizens often do not have child-resistant closures, allowing children to open them with very little difficulty. Also, purses of visitors may contain medicines and other potentially dangerous items. Remember that the homes of friends and relatives may not be poison-proof, particularly if children do not live there.
Why not create some substance-free holiday traditions for your family? It’s a great way to show your child that you can have fun during the holidays without alcohol or drugs. You can find a number of unique non-alcoholic recipes that can add flavor to your party by giving your guests healthy, tasty alternatives to alcoholic beverages.
EACTC encourages more dialogue around underage drinking—especially before and during the holiday season. The conversation should not be whether the behavior is right or wrong, but rather the health effects to the developing brains and bodies of children and youth. We need to move beyond debates and focus on health risks and safety implications. Our messages should be consistent and clear: underage drinking is unhealthy, unsafe, and unacceptable. Visit ParentsEmpowered.org to watch a video on how alcohol affects the adolescent brain. All of us at EACTC wish you a safe and joyful holiday season.