With my oldest daughter’s 21st birthday in just a few days, I am again thinking about deadly traditions around alcohol that are accepted as normal in our culture. Please talk to your kids about the dangers of alcohol, and share this with the kids you love.
Earlier this month, a promising young athlete and former teammate of my nephew’s died of a heart attack that was the ultimate result of a night of heavy partying on New Year’s Eve. His body could not recover from the poisoning. He was a 19-year-old college freshman.
I’m so saddened by another tragic loss to alcohol poisoning, and I want to share three important messages to teach your kids about alcohol.
1. Alcohol can kill you.
Every year, approximately 1825 families mourn the loss of their college-age child who dies as a result of alcohol poisoning from binge drinking or alcohol-related injuries. That’s 1825 promising lives cut short because our culture condones binge drinking by not talking or doing much about it.
Since our family friends loss their son Gordie, an eighteen-year-old college freshman, to alcohol poisoning in 2004, I have been much more aware of the countless alcohol-related tragedies that affect young people and their families each year. These alcohol-related deaths of high school and college students are so commonplace that they never make the national news. Sometimes these deaths don’t even make the local news, so maybe you didn’t know about all these deaths caused by alcohol? I didn’t until 2004.
Gordie’s parents made a movie about his death to help prevent the same tragedy from happening to other families. You can watch the movie Haze (link below) with your kids, but you may want to preview it first – it’s heavy and definitely not for little kids, but it’s extremely powerful. There is a 36-minute high school version and a longer college version. The movie informs young people about the dangers of binge drinking and when to seek medical help for friends. It does not tell them not to drink, but there are countless examples of ugliness related to alcohol use. We’ve shown it to our camp counselors during staff training, and each time we’ve shown the movie, there have been a few people in the room who share that they, too, have lost a friend to alcohol poisoning. In a room with 100 college students, two or three each summer have lost a friend or classmate to alcohol poisoning. Watch it with your kids and talk about it.
I love drinking a glass of red wine once in a while, and I look forward to toasting my 21-year old daughter next year when she reaches the legal drinking age. Instead of the tradition that many young people follow of 21 shots of alcohol, called “21 at 21,” I want her to learn that alcohol is best enjoyed not at all or in moderation. Do a quick search of the internet with your soon-to-be 21-year-old and read about Jesse Drews, Bradley McCue, Jason Rienhardt, Lydia Clark, Nathan Black, and countless other young adults who have died on their 21st birthdays from alcohol poisoning because they participated in this deadly drinking tradition.
Do you know someone in your family or community who’s died as a result of alcohol? Can you think back to your college days and remember anyone dying from alcohol use? Tell your kids those stories or dig up the news articles. Our kids need to know that alcohol can kill them, and real stories help them understand.
2. Alcohol can really mess up your life.
Talk with your kids about how alcohol negatively affects the brain and body. There are many resources (some below) that provide a lot of data and information about the damage alcohol causes. Explain why their young bodies (and our older ones!) are so much healthier without alcohol.
Talk to them about the 97,000 students between the ages of 18-24 who are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape every year because alcohol severely impairs judgment. Tell them that more than 100,000 of 18-24 year olds report having been too intoxicated to know if they consented to having sex and that alcohol use can lead to unplanned, unwanted, and unprotected sex. So, explain that even when the consequences aren’t injury or death, there can be life-long negative emotional and physical consequences that result from being impaired by alcohol.
Let them know that many young people drink alcohol, but that statistics show that not “everyone” is drinking. At our local college, they did a survey and found that 40% of the students drank alcohol. Your kids’ perception may be that everyone’s drinking, but the majority of kids are not.
Let your kids know that it is important to you that they stay safe and healthy and not break the law. Let them know you don’t condone any drinking until they are of the legal age, and, after that, if they choose to drink, you hope they will be moderate in their habits and careful about where and with whom they drink. Hopefully you’re modeling good alcohol habits for them, because what you do and what they’ve seen will speak more powerfully than what you tell them.
3. These are my rules. Still call me.
Tell them that in your family, you will not allow under-age people to drink alcohol in your home. Brainstorm with your kids alternative ways for them to have fun with their friends, and offer your home as a place where kids can have safe fun. I’ve heard some parents provide their kids with alcohol because they “know they’re going to get it somewhere.” They will not get it anywhere if adults act responsibly.
Finally, tell them that if they find themselves in a situation where they or their friends are at risk, to call you. And, they need to call 911 if their friend shows any of one of these signs after drinking alcohol: puking while passed out, unresponsive (to pinching), irregular breathing, or cold or blue skin.
Our young people need to grow up in an environment where adults do not unintentionally condone or ignore when under-age kids are drinking. The drinking high school and young college students do is binge drinking. They do not have a drink or two. They drink excessively, often several shots of grain alcohol. Their only goal is to get drunk fast. And 1825 of them are dying every year because of it. Don’t let your precious child be one of the tragic statistics. Please talk to them about the dangers of alcohol.
Watch HAZE (the movie about Gordie) with your (older) kids:
http://www.gordiescall.org/haze-the-movie (scroll to bottom for 81 minute full version or 36 minute abridged version)
Facts from collegedrinkingprevention.gov website:
• Death: 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor vehicle crashes (Hingson et al., 2009).
• Injury: 599,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are unintentionally injured under the influence of alcohol (Hingson et al., 2009).
• Assault: 696,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking (Hingson et al., 2009).
• Sexual Abuse: 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape (Hingson et al., 2009).
• Unsafe Sex: 400,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 had unprotected sex and more than 100,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 report having been too intoxicated to know if they consented to having sex (Hingson et al., 2002).• Academic Problems: About 25 percent of college students report academic consequences of their drinking including missing class, falling behind, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall (Engs et al., 1996; Presley et al., 1996a, 1996b; Wechsler et al., 2002).
• Health Problems/Suicide Attempts: More than 150,000 students develop an alcohol-related health problem (Hingson et al., 2002), and between 1.2 and 1.5 percent of students indicate that they tried to commit suicide within the past year due to drinking or drug use (Presley et al., 1998).
• Drunk Driving: 3,360,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 drive under the influence of alcohol (Hingson et al., 2009).
Other resources to read through or look at with your kids: