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By Staci Clark, Program Specialist

According to the Center for Disease Control, alcohol kills more teenagers than all other illicit drugs combined. Illicit drugs include: heroin, cocaine and meth. Most of us don’t have heroin or crack in our fridge at home nor do we use these substances socially. Accessibility is a big factor in the equation that contributes to these untimely deaths.

Let’s start with the war on drugs. Most of us with teenagers today can remember the 80’s and 90’s War on Drugs campaign “This is your brain, this is brain on drugs.” I can still see the egg frying in skillet. Prevention was a relatively new field when Nancy Reagan told us to “Just Say No.” Unfortunately, when we were growing up the strategies used were not as effective or evidence based. Some strategies unintentionally undermined prevention efforts. We were told that drugs would kill you and some of us tried the drugs and didn’t die. (Oh and none of our brains turned instantly into fried eggs.)  We may bring our own experiences with failed alcohol and drug prevention to the table when we think about helping our kids and that can be confusing.

I will admit that until I began working in substance abuse prevention and began reviewing data, statistics and all things prevention, I had to assess my own attitude towards alcohol and how I could send mixed messages to my daughters. I would like to challenge every parent to take the time to consider your own ideas about underage drinking and learn the facts. This may mean that we must unlearn some things and make some minor changes in our own behavior and in the environment of our homes.

Talking with your kids about alcohol doesn’t have to be confusing.

Instead of only telling our kids that alcohol and drugs are bad, give them practical information, expectations and clear boundaries for what is acceptable. Make a family safety plan so that your teenager has a practical plan to get out of any situation that might tempt them to drink. Keep alcohol accounted for and out of reach to your teenagers.

With new research and a growing toolkit of proven strategies, we are watching substances abuse numbers continue to decline, but the work isn’t over. 1 in 3 teenagers report currently drinking alcohol (past 30 days), 51% of 12th graders report current use of alcohol.

As we learn the dangers of underage drinking, we can’t afford to hold on to any idea that drinking is just something kids do. It can damage their developing brain and directly contribute to future alcoholism and alcohol related disorders.

Take time before Spring Break to let your teens know that you strongly disapprove of them using alcohol. Research shows that teens whose parents strongly disapprove are 5 times less likely to use alcohol.

For more information, please check out some of the useful articles below.

8 tips for talking to kids about alcohol

6 tips to prevent underage drinking during spring break

9 ways to delay teen drinking