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Thursday, April 21st, 2011
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Apple juice and alcohol, something to talk about

By North Hawaii Drug-Free Coalition

By now, everyone’s probably heard about the 15-month-old boy who accidentally drank alcohol with his apple juice in a Detroit Applebee’s restaurant. Fortunately, he received prompt medical attention, and his condition was not life-threatening. But the dangers of underage drinking are real and serious.

Stories like this one present “teachable moments” about underage drinking. They’re easy to remember and can make for quick, non-threatening conversation starters, while you’re driving to school or doing the dishes.

What does this have to do with us?

Sometimes it’s easier-and more effective-to have short, timely conversations than one Big Talk about alcohol or drugs. The important thing to remember is that, as a parent or guardian, you are the most influential person in your child’s life, even if it doesn’t seem that way all the time. And, talking with kids is the best thing you can do to help them make good choices about drugs and alcohol. It decreases the chance of their using either by 50%.

How do I bring it up?

“Did you hear about the little boy that got drunk by accident at Applebee’s? Apparently, he was so wasted, the poor kid was saying ‘hi’ and ‘bye’ to the walls! Can you imagine?”

Although there’s absolutely nothing funny about giving booze to a baby, chances are you might get a laugh from your teen. That’s not a bad way to start talking.

And then what?

Along the way, you could work in your “sound bite,” a reminder that you do not approve of underage drinking because you care. Maybe something like this, “If that ever happened to you, I would be so mad. That little boy was very lucky, because even a little bit of alcohol could have caused brain damage.”

Doctors measured the child’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level at .10%. That means his small body contained 1 gram of alcohol per 1000 grams of blood, and that means if he was an adult driving a car, he was over the legal BAC of .08%.

Alcohol can cause brain damage in older kids too. Because different areas of the brain continue to develop until about age 21, and because alcohol can interfere with that development, young people need to wait until age 21 to drink, if at all. You can say that underage drinking is not OK with you and never will be.

I’ve said that before.

Good. Then you might add another message to reinforce that, because brain damage is not the only risk involved with underage drinking. Far more tragic consequences occur when people drink and drive. Especially teens, whose desire to take risks can override their good judgment as those different areas of their brains continue to develop.

Our hearts break for the families of the young woman killed in a recent one-car crash in Kona and for the three youth who were injured. Police have said alcohol was a factor, and that all four were under 20 years old. The loss is unimaginable. Your children may know some of these children, and that may spark conversation in itself.

But even if your kids are clear that you do not want them to drink, you can be sure they get the second message: never ride in a car with someone who’s been drinking. Put your numbers in their cell phone, plus a backup friend or relative, and make sure they know you expect a call if they need a ride-anytime, anywhere.

I’ve said that before, too.

Of course you have. And, just like advertising, remember this kind of messaging can have a cumulative effect. In fact, one parenting expert, author Betsy Brown Braun, talks about accumulated lessons at www.DrugFree.org.

“It is the small, accumulated lessons about drinking that add up to make a difference. Allowing your underage child a sip of your wine or that last drop of your beer is a small but potent message. It says a little taste of alcohol is okay. It is approval… In the course of everyday life, parents have countless opportunities to practice what they preach, to walk the walk, in little ways and big. And it is those little sips that give rise to the big gulps.”

In exactly the same way, short, timely, stress-free conversations can be the “little sips” that help keep your child’s cup full of reminders. Just make sure it’s full of apple juice, not alcohol.

The North Hawaii Drug-Free Coalition, a project of Five Mountains Hawaii, is a regional volunteer organization committed to developing strong, sustaining relationships for Healthy Communities Choosing to Live Drug Free. For more information, visit www.fivemountains.org/nhdfc.

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