It’s time for a community call to action regarding underage drinking and drugging. When drugs or alcohol enter the brain, they can interrupt the work and actually change how the brain performs its jobs. These changes are what lead to compulsive drinking and drug use, the hallmark of addiction. The simple fact is, our kid’s brains are actively developing from birth to their early 20’s. The dangerous consequences of underage drinking needs to be put into the forefront and no tolerance rules enforced.
In the aftermath of the Whitney Houston tragedy, addiction and substance abuse is front-page news. Many think that nothing can be done to alter the course of addiction. Is it a mental health issue? Is it a medical disease? Or is it just personal weakness? What can no longer be debated is the impact drugs and alcohol has on brain development and our youth. There are severe consequences to underage drinking. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA):
- Teen fatalities make up one-fifth of all alcohol-related crashes, though licensed teens make up only about 6 percent of the overall licensed population.
- An annual average of 7.5 million children younger than the age of 18 (10.5 percent of all children) live with a parent who had an alcohol use disorder in the past year.
These children are at a greater risk for depression, anxiety disorders, problems with cognitive and verbal skills, and parental abuse or neglect. Furthermore, they are four times more likely than other children to develop alcohol problems themselves.
As an addict myself, I do accept responsibility for my actions and know that now my recovery is an inside job. But I also know that my habits formed as a kid most likely influenced the outcome. What cannot be accepted as a society, is that nothing can be done to influence the spread of this disease to the future generations. Underage drinking is an epidemic. However, unless you are in the system, in recovery or impacted by recovery you will not see this. To the contrary, your kids see over 2000 commercials a years glamorizing alcohol.
The facts, risks and consequences need to be made available to everyone. Children who are predisposed to addiction in their families decrease their chances of addiction by 65% from abstaining from drugs and alcohol until there 20’s – to the contrary, 40% of kids who start regular drinking predisposed or not will become an addict or abuse substances. It does not discriminate.
So why do generations of families pass this disease to the next generation?
The shame and fear associated with being an addict contributes to this. Too many of the tools in place suggest anonymity because of the stigma and mental illness association. I do respect this, but will argue this is the problem. Parents who are isolated and protecting their recovery anonymity are not helping their kids. Any other family disease from cancer to heart disease are ones that we ensure we protect our kids: we teach them to get check ups, we teach them to eat right and we share the risks.
So why as an addict or a family of substance abuse don’t we put this front and center with the same conviction. I sit in those anonymous rooms everyday and I listen to the “solution.” But then I listen to someone with years of sobriety share their daughter’s in jail for second DUI, say their son is abusing – followed by “but I am powerless over their addiction.” No. We are not powerless over our children. We have a responsibility to protect them and teach them. Sometimes teaching them means our own sacrifices. I would sacrifice anything to ensure my children don’t enter the dark world I faced. The argument also gets brighter in the wake of a public tragedy like Whitney Houston. She publicly tried to get sober and failed. Failing is a part of life, but it is how we get back up that is the example. Any other disease can have a relapse can’t it? Cancer comes back and cancer can kill you. But we don’t fight that in isolation and anonymity do we? You don’t get criticized for it coming back or someone suggesting you are weak. The contrary, be strong, be brave, be positive.
As we are now entering a new age of self-disclosure, where we cannot hide in shame or fear – or anything frankly. We need to start helping our future generation battle their epidemic. We need to be brave, strong and send a positive message. The ignorance our society has on underage drinking and addiction must be put into the forefront and become a new way of life. But it starts with us as their parents and caregivers. There are real consequences to underage drinking both short and long term. We have to teach those consequences to our kids, not tell them just say no.
There are consequences to kids and to parents who enable kids to drink. They are real and they are severe.
Pamela Pecs Cytron is the mother of two, CEO of Pendo Systems, Inc. and the founder of Relate to Us, a non-profit organization focused on shifting the paradigm of addiction and recovery.