Dr. H.: How
Does Teenage Drinking affect the family unit?
is a complicated question.
Actually, parents and teenagers are often both ignorant
of the effects of teenage drinking. Teenagers, filled with
the optimism of youth, feel that chemical dependency (or
other negative effects of teenage use) won't happen to them.
They view themselves as experimenters imbued with some sort
of magical immunity. "I can handle using," they tell each
other. At the same time, parents may have no idea of the
drug pressures their children face. Parents confronted with
the ignorance factor also confront self-doubt. "Would we
have caught it sooner if we'd been better informed?" parents
ask each other. This is followed by the gut-wrenching question,
"Have we been good parents?" Although both questions are
logical, the answers don't matter. Worrying about ignorance
doesn't change what happened.
The ignorance factor is usually long-term and twofold. First,
parents are ignorant about a child's experimentation with
drugs. Second, parents are ignorant about today's drugs
and their effects. Unfortunately, parental ignorance is
more common than rare. Often, parents are the last people
to learn that their child is using alcohol or other drugs.
This is because parents have been fooled. Their child has
worked hard to maintain normal behavior, getting decent
and sometimes outstanding grades, and participating in a
variety of school activities. Home behavior focuses on not
arousing parental suspicion.
A child using alcohol or drugs creates a ripple effect in
the community. Peer group members, in the middle of the
ripple, know that your child is using. Perhaps the youngsters
are even using together. Children tell concurrent stories,
matching times, places and incidents to mask alcohol or
drug use. As parents, you are not at the center and have
no idea what is going on.
Strangers, on the outer edge of the ripple, are often parents
of peer group children. These parents now that your child
is using, they might not know that their child is using,
and face a terrible dilemma. Should they call you to report
what seemed like suspicious behavior, based upon fragmentary
evidence? Not to say anything is the choice usually made.
Usually by this time cracks begin to occur in the adolescent's
wall of defe3nses. Grades began falling, increasing car
accidents occur, items at home of other family members seem
to be misplaced and not to be found, arguments arise easily
out of nothing, and a disproportionate amount of time is
spent on that individual child much to the displeasure and
discomfort of other family members. When a family member
becomes dysfunctional due to chemical dependency or other
reasons, then the other members of the family much shift
into new behaviors.
Often parents feel constantly tired. So much energy is being
spent on "that" child; they have little left for themselves
or anyone else. Some parents may feel a resurgence of guilt.
Working mothers, in particular, may feel guilty about setting
career goals. Parents may feel guilty about spending time
together and enjoying themselves. Finishing dinner in a
well-known restaurant, a wife commented to her husband,
" I feel guilty about having fun." At least she could identify
her feelings. Some parents are unable to do even that.
Dr. H.: Why is using alcohol
[or other drugs] so much worse for kids than for adults?
teenage years are the time in which valuable learning about
oneself and the world is generally taking place. Meeting
challenges, overcoming frustrating, and tolerating anxiety
play an important role in the learning process. This is
also a time for young people to develop socially acceptable
behavior. This is also a time to meet people and work at
building relationships. Teaching children how to ask questions
about others and to be good listeners is one of our tasks
as adults. Letting adolescents know that many social situations
can be awkward at first and are not initially easy for most
people is also important. Adolescents must be allowed to
learn that it is okay to feel awkward at times. We all do!
If we point out to them that some people turn to alcohol
and drugs to get them through awkward social moments and
they don't get to practice these skills, learning them ask
an adult is even more difficult. Users and their parents
both should be concerned about the potential dangers of
inhibiting or blocking out these important elements of growing
up. Also the younger someone starts to use alcohol and drugs,
the more likely he or she is to develop problems associated
with such use. Youth can develop a harmful dependence on
alcohol much more quickly than adults due to their heightened
sensitivity to intoxication. The adolescent is four to five
times more likely to become an alcoholic when he begins
consuming alcohol at age fourteen than at twenty-one. Young
people who use alcohol and drugs are also more likely to
be victims or perpetrators of violence, engage in unplanned
and unprotected sex, experience school failure, or be seriously
injured from driving or engaging in other risky behavior
while impaired. Many young people are killed this way every
year. Young people who use tobacco are more likely than
others to drink heavily later or use illicit drugs. Nearly
40 percent of the young people in adult correction facilities
reported drinking before committing the crime that landed
them there. We cannot say with certainly whether or not
any of these young people had problems before they began
using alcohol/drugs., but in either case it is important
to deal with them without the presence of alcohol/drugs.
Back To Panel
Dear Dr. H.: What
is the best way to confront your mother if you believe she
has a drinking problem? I love her, but I don’t want to
make her angry. Also, why does she yell so much when she
comes home late at night drunk?
with an adult parent who has an alcohol problem is a highly
stressful and upsetting situation. Those who struggle with
this issue (and there are many) seem to have the most success
when they reach out to others. Refusing to "keep the
family secret" and talking to and drawing support from
others ca help you make the best decision for you
in dealing with your mother. Support groups such as ALANON
(for family members of the alcoholic), ALATEEN
(for teenage children of an alcoholic parent), and ACOA
(for adult children of alcoholics) can be a great resource.
In addition, I would advise that you consider securing the
aid of a mental health professional who has experience conducting
interventions. An intervention is a "caring"
confrontation of the alcoholic by a group comprised of the
alcoholic’s family members, friends, co-workers, etc. who
are concerned about the alcoholic’s welfare. Consider contacting
your health insurance company or your local mental health
center for a referral to a therapist who has had experience
with this successful therapeutic technique. Good luck.
Dr. H.: Does
alcohol make people violent? My boyfriend sometimes gets
more angry with me when he’s drunk and I get scared of what
he might do.
best guess is that the part of your boyfriend’s brain (and
anybody’s brain who drinks alcohol) that keeps him from
doing things he normally would not do, i.e. get angry, yell
and/or become aggressive is "numbed out" when
he is drinking. Unfortunately, some people who use alcohol
become more unpredictable and intimidating when intoxicated.
Your question seems to suggest that this may be an ongoing
problem and if this is the case, I would strongly advise
that you discuss your concerns with your school counselor
(if you are a student) or a mental health professional.
Dr. H.: Being
drunk is the only time I can relax and be myself. I can
never feel that good when Im sober. How can you tell
someone is an alcoholic? Am I a bad person?
healthy people recognize that feeling good is related to
what they think and do. They become aware of the fact that
they themselves are responsible for thinking productive
thoughts and taking productive action. To paraphrase Abraham
Lincoln, we are just about as happy as we are going to let
ourselves be, and this takes responsible living of lives
dependent people learn hot to feel better by using alcohol
or other mood-altering chemicals. When feeling good is achieved
using alcohol or other mood altering chemicals, our emotional
growth stops. We are in a sense emotionally paralyzed.
As we discontinue
seeking to think or act more responsibly to feel better,
our dependency on the use of alcohol and other drugs to
achieve this state of well-being results in an the development
of "tolerance" to these substances. As a person
learns to tolerate the mood-altering chemicals, it takes
more the achieve the same effect. As a result, people begin
using more frequently. Heavy and frequent use of alcohol
and other drugs leads to dependence. People who are dependent
get uncomfortable when they stop using. This discomfort
is caused by a combination of physical, psychological and
withdrawal from alcohol and other drugs create symptoms
of agitation and discomfort. Psychologically withdrawal
creates anxiety. The drug on which the chemically dependent
person relies on in order to cope with stress is no longer
available for soothing them. Socially, withdrawal feels
uncomfortable. A chemically dependent persons entire
social network has been organized around their progressive
alcohol and drug use. And, when use stops, social pressure
is put on the person to use again.
Institute of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse recently defined
alcohol abuse in these terms: "Alcohol abuse involves
persistent patterns of heavy alcohol intake associated with
health consequences and/or impairment of social functioning.
In contrast, we can also define alcoholism as a pre-occupation
with acquiring alcohol, compulsive use of alcohol in spite
of adverse consequences, and a pattern of relapse to alcohol
use in spite of those consequences.
these three criteria for alcoholism (alcohol addiction)
is the alcoholics loss of control; an alcoholic cannot
control his or her drinking while drinking. As a result,
addictive use of alcohol inevitably leads to adverse consequences.
This loss of control over alcohol once established, exists
for the alcoholics lifetime and destructively affects
his or her life. The effects include: disturbances in interpersonal
relationships and employment, as well as a steady and sure
decline in physical and mental health. For the alcoholic,
the only means of control is abstinence.
from the disease of alcoholism rests not on the alcoholics
futile attempt to control his or her drinking, but on the
alcoholics decision to begin a new life based on abstinence.
Dear Dr. H.: A
lot of my friends are getting me to try hard-core drugs
with my drinking. I have been having trouble concentrating
in school. Is that why?
such as alcohol and other drugs are combined the individual
effects of the drugs are disproportionately multiplied.
No longer does one plus one equal two. One plus one equals
four or six or eight depending on the substances. This is
known as the synergistic process.
increased impact on our bodys ability to metabolize
the enhanced effects of the drugs, our return to drug free
status requires more time and stress on our organs and systems
is increased. Also, once a chemical enters our system, we
lose the ability to make choices as productively as when
sober. The chemical takes control and dictates our behavior.
We are compelled to do things against our values. Loss of
control can be defined as ongoing use of a drug despite
harmful consequences. Not being able to perform our function
as a student, due to having trouble concentrating is heading
in that direction. Perhaps its better to find new
Dear Dr. H.: Can
you list 5 reasons why people still drink and drive?
In my experience
working with DUI offenders, I have heard many reasons why
people chose to drive despite being impaired by alcohol.
Here are the 5 most cited reasons for drinking and driving:
- "I felt
like I was OK to drive."
driven drunk many times in the past and Ive
never been caught."
- "I was only
a few miles from home."
- "I wanted
to wake up in my own bed."
- "I didnt
want to spend the money on a cab."
Dear Dr. H.: My
boyfriend and I were at a party and he was drinking and
started to flirt with other girls - what should I do about
a tough one. Unfortunately, I would need more information
about your relationship with your boyfriend as well as information
about your boyfriends drinking pattern to offer any
specific suggestions. Still, I dont want to leave
you without any advice. So
Assertively (but not aggressively!)
telling your boyfriend (when he is sober!!) our feelings
about his behavior is the place to start. If you feel as
if this approach isnt working, think about seeking
professional counseling to address the issue. Good Luck!
Dear Dr. H.: When you get busted for
DUI, what are those classes supposed to do for you? How
do they cure you?
of the classes is to prevent the DUI offender from getting
a second DUI. Most of the time, the classes just reinforce
the changes people make after the DUI regarding separating
drinking and driving. Unfortunately, the educational classes
are not a cure. But, research has revealed that participation
in educational classes after a first DUI significantly reduces
the offenders risk of a second DUI.
Dear Dr. H.: How can I get my boyfriend
to stop drinking so much? When we go out, he always drinks
too much. He never gets mean, but I wish he wouldnt
get drunk. What can I say or do?
for the question. You are in a very difficult situation
that requires support from others. I would advise you to
try attending an Al-Anon meeting. Al-Anon is a support group
for people who have a significant other who misuses alcohol.
The group may be of great help to you because all the members
can relate to your situation and give you support and specific
practical advice about your situation. Good Luck!
Dear Dr. H.: How
many teen deaths occur in one day due to Drinking and Driving?
PS. My sister was killed at the age of 6 by a Drunk Driver.
I was also injured.
my sympathies to you and your family. Your loss is a difficult
one.Drinking and driving greatly increases the risk of being
involved in a car crash, and it is further complicated for
teens, because they are generally short on experience with
both drinking alcohol and driving a car.
2,300 youths aged 15 - 20 died in alcohol-related crashes
in 1996 - thats 33.6 % of all traffic fatalities for
this age group, and it means 6 to 7 deaths per day due to
Dear Dr. H.: How widespread is
the problem of underage drunk driving in our nation?
focussing on alcohol-related problems experienced by high
school seniors and drop outs revealed that within the preceding
year, approximately 80 % reported getting drunk,
binge drinking (defined as 5 or more drinks in one episode)
or drinking and driving. More than half said that drinking
had caused them to feel sick, miss school or work, get arrested
or be involved in an auto accident.
Dear Dr. H.: I hear so much about
binge drinking these days. Most kids probably drink more
in college than later in life when they have lots of responsibilities,
right? So whats the big deal? Does it mean we all
have a drinking problem?
15 % , 25 %, and 31 % of eighth, tenth and twelfth graders
respectively, reported binge drinking.Although alcohol is
a legal drug used by many adults without negative consequences,
it holds unique dangers for underage drinkers. The younger
you begin drinking, the greater your chances are of developing
a clinically-defined alcohol disorder.
at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
(NIAAA) found that people who begin drinking before age
fifteen are four times more likely to become alcohol dependent
and twice as likely to abuse alcohol as people who start
drinking at age twenty-one.
drinking can impair physical and psychological development
as well as learning. Underage drinking correlates with increases
in other types of high-risk behavior, including unsafe sexual
practices. Alcohol use among adolescents has also been closely
linked to increased risk for suicide, with a ratio as high
as 3:1, compared to non-drinkers in this age group.
Dear Dr. H.: What do you consider
to be normal experimentation with alcohol and/or
drugs - what age and amounts?
and girls can reach adulthood without using illegal drugs,
alcohol or tobacco, they will probably never develop a chemical
dependency problem. Children must be nurtured and protected
from alcohol and drug use as well as othr forms of risky
behavior to ensure that they grow up as healthy and productive
members of society.
social consequences fostered by alcohol/drug-related crime
and violence mirror the tragedy that substance abuse wreaks
non-alcoholic women, one to two drinks per day is the suggested
non-alcoholic men, two to three drinks per day is the suggested
Dear Dr. H.: I am tired of my father's
alcoholic behavior every time he drinks. Sometimes he gets
abusive and very temperamental. What kind of AA meetings
are there for the victims of the alcoholic?
sorry to hear about the pain your fathers alcohol
misuse has caused you. Thankfully there are support groups
for family members who are negatively impacted by their
loved ones addiction. ALANON (www.al-anon.org
to find a meeting near you) is a support group comprised
of family members empowering themselves as they deal with
the addicted person(s) in their lives. Adult Children
of Alcoholics (A.C.O.A.) (http://www.adultchildern.org
or call (310) 534-1815 messages only) groups are made up
of adults who grew up in a "dysfunctional" household
as a result of substance abuse in their family. Both of
these support groups have proven to be highly effective
in helping their members to learn to develop healthy and
happy relationships despite having to endure being raised
in a dysfunctional family.
Dr. H.: Hello Doc! I was asked by a friend
of mine to give ten reasons why teenagers want to drink
at early ages and why can't they drink at 18 instead of
Dr. H.: Hello Doc! I was asked by a friend
of mine to give ten reasons why teenagers want to drink
at early ages and why can't they drink at 18 instead of
no David Letterman, but here are my top 10 reasons why teenagers
drink at an early age:
- Curiosity (in
- Rebellion against
- Peer pressure
- As a coping strategy
to deal with stress/negative feelings
- Teenagers want
to act "grown up"
- As part of socializing
- Learned behavior
(from adults in the family)
- They like the
to the second part of your question, my best guess is that
society has made the assumption that the majority of teenagers
would benefit from the three additional years (18-21) by
learning to be more mature and responsible in their use
Dear Dr. H.: Why is drunk driving
not considered such a large crime?
the way you phrased your question, I sense some impatience
and dissatisfaction with the current legal consequences
for a DUI offense. Let me assure you that the legal and
societal trends have been to dramatically increase the penalties
for the DUI offender over the past few years. My best guess
is that drunk driving will be considered an even "larger
crime" in the years to come.
Dear Dr. H.: I gave up drinking
for a while because I thought maybe I drank too much. Now
my friends say Im no fun at parties. Whats the
happy middle ground? How often is ok for a college student?
an excellent question. In my opinion, the "happy middle
ground" is different from one person to the next, and
also, it may vary during ones lifetime. For some people
who have a drinking problem, one drink is too many. For
others, two to three drinks a couple of times a week doesnt
cause them any problems with work, school, family or friends.
The American Medical Association defines "moderate
more than 12 drinks per week,
more than 4 drinks at one time,
days without drinking per week.
more than 9 drinks per week,
more than 3 drinks at one time,
days without drinking per week.
this definition is of some help to you. As I suggested earlier,
most peoples alcohol use varies over their lifetime.
Based on my professional experience, many non-problematic
adult alcohol users drank most heavily in their late teens
and early twenties. Still, if a college student has questions/concerns
about their alcohol use, he or she should consider contacting
their school counseling center or local health department
for more information.
Dear Dr. H.: Do you believe that
the legal age of drinking should be raised? Do you think
lowering it to 18 again would really change anything for
21 is a
reasonable age in the United States it jibes with
other legal privileges in our country. There is a proven
scientific connection between early drinking and the development
of the disease of alcoholism. The earlier you begin to drink,
the greater the likelihood. To me, thats a powerful
reason not to lower the legal drinking age. Better to spend
those "almost adult" years developing a strategy
and the means to follow through for a productive, healthy
lifestyle. At this stage of life, young people are learning
coping strategies, stress management and problem solving
skills, and fine tuning their ability to make wise and thoughtful
alcohol reduces judgment and perception and diminishes your
ability to accurately assess risk. Impaired judgment can
lead to sexually transmitted diseases (including HIV/AIDS),
auto accidents and/or injuries. You may also face risks
like an inability to control your drinking, rapid increases
in tolerance levels, blackouts and memory loss, poor nutrition,
damage to the heart and central nervous system, interference
or damage to personal relationships, sexual impotence and/or
damage to reproductive ability.
Dear Dr. H.:
I have heard that insurance companies are trying to stop
covering treatment for alcoholism, saying it isnt
a "medical condition." Whats up with that
I thought alcoholism was a disease?
is a chronic, relapsing disease such as diabetes and hypertension.
Look at these stats: More than 70% of people who currently
use illicit drugs put themselves at risk of developing an
addiction. Of the estimated $165 billion spent each year
related to alcoholism and substance abuse in 1990, more
than $60 billion is attributed to crime, criminal justice
costs and property damage.
alcoholics are employed. Most employer-provided health care
plans already discriminate against claims for substance
abuse treatment by requiring a greater patient burden than
other diseases the employee pays more out of pocket
for deductibles or co-payments while being entitled to fewer
number of visits or days of coverage. Commonly, there are
also lifetime limits regarding total dollar expenditure.
For example, a medical plan that has a lifetime expenditure
cap of $1,000,000 might only allow between $5,000 and $25,000
in lifetime costs for substance abuse treatment. Parity
for such treatments should only increase the average premium
by 0.02%, an affordable increase to ensure fair policies.
on prevention and/or treatment will help effect positive
changes like these:
fewer highway deaths, reductions in crimes like theft and
robbery and illegal drug trafficking. There would be reduced
use of coverage for other medical illnesses (side effects
of the disease of alcoholism or substance abuse), reduced
employee absenteeism and increased employee productivity.
As a matter of fact, a study conducted by the California
Drug and Alcohol Treatment Assessment (CALDATA) shows that
treatment actually saves taxpayers approximately $7 for
every $1 spent over the course of one year.
companies may want to reduce or eliminate coverage of alcoholism
and substance abuse. But clearly, we cant afford to
let that happen.
refs: "The Costs and Effects of Parity for Mental Health
and Substance Abuse Insurance Benefits," conducted
by Mathematical Policy Research, Inc., March 1998.)
Dear Dr. H: Theres a kid in our gang who ALWAYS,
ALWAYS gets so wasted we have to take care of her. I know
she doesnt have the greatest home situation, but we
are tired of cleaning up after her, and bailing her out
of trouble. Short of blowing her off for good, is there
anything we can do to get her to lighten up?
much, if she doesnt want to do something to help herself.
You might try suggesting a self help group like AA. Encourage
her to start with an introductory open meeting one
anyone is welcome to attend. One of you could even volunteer
to go with her the first time.
who abuse alcohol or drugs dont live in isolation.
As her situation gets worse, she may try to place blame
or guilt on others some of her friends might benefit
from support programs like Al-anon, a program for friends,
spouses, family members, even employers who are affected
by her behavior. Al-anon can help you understand the ways
in which alcohol and drugs play a role in their lives. Even
if she wont get help right now, you might learn something
from a program like Al-anon.
Back To Panel
Dr. H.: A friend told me I should look
into A.C.O.A. meetings because I lived with my alcoholic
father until I was 12 years old when my mother divorced
him. What are these meetings for and how do I find one close
Signed, A.C.O.A. Hunter
Hunter: Adult Children of Alcoholics (A.C.O.A.)
meetings are designed to provide free group support for
adults who grew up in families where someone (typically
a parent) was a substance abuser. Like Alcoholics Anonymous,
these meetings are anonymous and confiential. Groups usually
meet once a week for about an hour. You can participate,
or just sit and listen. The best way to find a meeting near
you is to look uo ACOA in your local phone book - when you
call, tell them where you live and they'll tell you when
and where. I recommend that you attend a couple of different
meetings to find the right "fit" for you. Happy
Dr H.: I just got a DUI and I have to attend
some type of classes as part of my sentence. What's the
deal with these classes?
Signed, Reluctant Student
Student: They are probably called Alcohol Education
classes and they are designed to help you to separate drinking
and driving. Many people change their drinking and driving
behavior after their DUI. The classes are set up to reinforce
these changes and to help you to not get another DUI. How
many classes you must take depends on a number of factors,
but don't worry, the judge and the court will spell it all
out for you.
Dear Dr. H.:
I heard that taking a cold shower, drinking lots of water
and boogying on the dance floor will sober you up. Is that
Signed, Wanna be Sober
Sober Wannabe: If you take the steps above, you will
be a clean, bladder-busting tired person - but still drunk.
The only thing that gets alcohol out of your system is time.
Dear Dr. H.:
Let's get real, Doc. Everybody drinks and drives! When
my buddies and I go out, a DUI is the last thing we're thinking
about. If I try to avoid drinking and driving, I get a bunch
of grief from my friends - like I can't handle myself. Any
Signed, Pressured Peer
Pressured: You are right, many people do drink and drive.
I can appreciate your dilemma - you want to be safe, but
you don't want to be hassled by your friends every time
you go out. Here are a few tips that might help:
your friends that you heard the police are cracking down
on drunk drivers more now (that's the truth!) and you can't
afford a DUI.
them about this web site and about all you've learned about
the penalties and fines related to DUI.
3. If they
keep bugging you, you might want to ask yourself why you'd
want to keep hanging out with people who won't respect your
decisions. Good Luck!