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Parents should make sure that their teenage children have all the facts about tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs, so that when their teens do need to make their own choices about drug use, they can do so based on accurate information. Use the tools found on this website to educate yourself to provide factual information to your teen.

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Here are answers to the questions about substance use most frequently asked by parents.

A: Parents can give a clear message to their teenagers about drinking (“I don’t want you to drink at this stage of your life because it puts your personal safety at risk”) and have a surprising amount of influence. Discuss with your teens what choices they have when they find themselves in a situation where some of their friends may be drinking. If you find that your teen is drinking at parties, you may want to focus on ways that they can increase their safety and responsible decision-making in these situations.

A: There are many dangers associated with drinking during the teenage years. Even with just a few drinks, alcohol begins to affect judgment. Drinkers then may make decisions that put their own and others’ health and safety at risk. Teenagers themselves readily admit that when they drink they often behave in ways they later regret. This can range from “acting stupid” to saying something rude to a friend or getting involved sexually. Fights, damage to property, injuries, unwanted pregnancy, STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), trying other drugs and riding with an impaired driver are all possible harmful outcomes of teenage drinking.

Sometimes party drinking takes the form of “chugging” or “funneling” — power drinking or contests where young people drink as much as they can as quickly as they can. This is particularly risky, because drinking in this manner can cause severe intoxication, alcohol poisoning, leading to stoppage of breathing and even death. Death can also occur because a person becomes unconscious and chokes on his or her own vomit. Parents need to discuss with their teens about calling for emergency assistance when they find someone in this situation.

A. Some parents do feel that if alcohol is not made to be the “forbidden fruit”, it will lose some of its attraction for a teenager. Having a parent present in the home when there is a teenage drinking party does not prevent the harmful or legal consequences of underage drinking. Some recent studies have found that adult supervised teen drinking can actually increase the potential for problems with teen drinking.

A. Harm reduction is the approach that our first priority should be to reduce the problems and harms associated with alcohol and other drug use. An example of this approach would be supporting a Designated Driver initiative. Having a designated driver does not condone alcohol use, but it does allow others to drink more safely. It is based on the knowledge that impaired driving can cause irrevocable damage and that designating a non-drinking driver reduces the risks for the driver, for those who have been drinking and for others on the road.

Many parents who advise their children against drinking and use of any drug will add, as their bottom line, that if their teens do happen to drink or use drugs, they can call their parents to ensure they have a safe way to get home. Parents who do not want their children to use alcohol can still warn their teens to never leave their drink (alcoholic or non-alcoholic) unattended at a party or take a drink from anyone, in order to prevent a drug from being slipped into their drink. Particularly as teens grow older and parents realize that they have begun to drink, parents can discuss with their teens ways to increase their personal safety, for example by having a sober ‘buddy’ around.

There is strong evidence that if teens do choose to drink during their later teen years by limiting the amount they drink on one occasion (for example, one or two drinks at most) they can decrease the associated risks and avoid the harms of being drunk. Parents can discuss this option for increased safety with their teens even if they prefer their teen not to drink at all.

Sources: National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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