In Wisconsin, 65% of teens have tried alcohol at least once, and nearly 42,000 of our high schoolers tried alcohol before age 13. Many in Northwest Wisconsin believe high school drinking is just a rite of passage, but did you know that underage drinking can lead to lifelong alcohol dependence? In fact, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “people who start drinking before the age of 15 are 4 times more likely to meet the criteria for alcohol dependence at some point in their lives.” Alcohol use is associated with a greater likelihood of using other substances, including marijuana and tobacco (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)).
Higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide are found among our youth who choose to drink alcohol. In addition to serious mental health effects, “drinking alcohol can slow a teen’s brain activity for weeks,” and “can damage the parts of the brain responsible for learning, memory, and self-control” (WI Department of Health Services).
Want some good news? Parents, guardians, mentors— you have a huge influence on whether our youth decide to drink alcohol before age 21. “Over 80 percent of young people ages 10–18 say their parents are the leading influence on their decision about whether to drink alcohol” (SAMHSA).
Experts agree that we need to start talking to our kids about alcohol and drugs as early as age 8. Start talking early and often. Make sure your kids know you do not want them to drink alcohol before age 21. Talk about alcohol when you see it around you, at family gatherings, social media, and on tv shows or ads.
Want more good news? WI Department of Health Services has developed a program called “Small Talks” to help parents talk to their kids about alcohol and drugs. Visit www.SmallTalksWI.org for a few quick and easy tips for short and simple conversations with your kids. Remember: You have the power to influence whether our youth decide to drink alcohol before age 21.
Submitted by: Stacy Hilde, We Support Recovery
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