Facts about Underage Drinking & Driving
Safe, responsible drivers do not drink and drive – period. As a parent, you can reinforce that message and help your teen steer clear of dangers like drunk driving or being a passenger of friends who have been drinking. Preventing underage drinking also helps avoid exposure to violence, risky sexual behavior, alcoholism and other serious concerns.
Think your teen doesn’t hear what you say? Think again. More than 80 percent of teens say parents are the leading influence in their decision to drink or not. Families provide a framework for teens that guides their decision-making and behaviors – even when you’re not around.
With 14 being the average age when teens first consume alcohol, it’s important to start talking to your teen early and often about underage drinking. This can help set the stage for establishing rules around driving privileges. Here are some tips to help you get the conversation started.
- Be open – Teens will be more receptive to your message if they sense you are being up-front. Respect your teen – and insist you are treated respectfully, as well.
- Encourage questions – Your teen might not be eager or ready to ask questions when you’re having a formal discussion about alcohol. So, clearly convey that you are available to answer questions at a later time.
- Be clear – Highlight what is best for your teen’s safety and give examples of potentially risky behaviors of other teens that should be avoided.
- Establish rules and consequences – Setting boundaries will clarify your expectations and can inform your teen’s decisions down the line. Create a parent-teen agreement that puts these expectations and consequences in writing.
- Show you care – Focus conversations on your goal of keeping your teen safe and healthy.
- Offer help – Despite good intentions, your teen could end up in a situation where alcohol is present. Before that happens, let your teen know you are available to provide a ride home from any uncomfortable or risky situation.
- Don’t preach – Approach your teen with an understanding attitude. This can help prevent getting tuned out.
- Don’t ignore warning signs – Pay attention to your teen’s words, actions and social circle, so you can pick up on any warning signs early.
- Don’t condone fake IDs – Owning a fake ID is illegal, and research shows that almost all teens who have false identification use it. They also are more likely to partake in risky binge drinking and other harmful behaviors. Clearly state your disapproval of fake IDs and explain potential consequences of using them.
- Don’t facilitate teen drinking – While it may seem more desirable to have teens consume alcohol in your own home under your supervision, it is both risky and illegal. Maine law forbids hosting (or being aware that your home will be used to host) a party where alcohol is provided to those under age 21. Most studies show that teens who are allowed to drink at home drink more heavily outside of the home. Conversely, teens are less likely to drink heavily if their parents have specific rules against underage drinking and also drink responsibly themselves.
Underage drinking can have significant health consequences. Some of these include:
Alcohol Dependency – People who start drinking before age 15 are five times more likely to develop alcohol dependence or abuse later in life than those who begin drinking at or after age 21 years. Alcohol dependence is a term doctors use to describe people who have trouble controlling their drinking and whose consumption of or preoccupation with alcohol interferes with normal personal, family, social or work life.
Risky behaviors – The younger teens are when they start drinking, the more likely it is they will engage in behaviors that harm themselves and others. For example, frequent binge drinkers (nearly 1 million high school students nationwide) are more likely to engage in risky behaviors including use of other drugs like marijuana and cocaine; having sex with four or more partners before graduating high school; and earning mostly D’s and F’s in school.
- Teens who binge drink are more than 63 times as likely to use cocaine than teens who do not drink.
- According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), teen drivers are 17 times more likely to die in a car crash when alcohol is involved.
Physical effects – Adolescent bodies and brains are still maturing, making them vulnerable to long-lasting impairment from alcohol. Long-term thinking and memory skills have the potential to be impacted by alcohol abuse, as do livers and reproductive organs. Avoiding drinking during this developmental phase is critical, especially when teens are grappling with learning to drive safely.
- Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) offers workshops for parents to equip them with tools for talking to their teens about alcohol use.
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) has a variety of resources for parents to engage their teens in conversation about underage drinking.
- The National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign’s website provides parents of teens information, advice and guidance about alcohol and other drugs.
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MADD. Power of Parents Facilitator’s Guide, 2011. Irving, Texas.
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