April Injury Prevention

Communicating with teens and young adults about alcohol consumption

April begins a new season of festive activities - from high school proms and graduations, to outdoor sporting events. Parents and caregivers hold an important responsibility to talk to teens about the dangers of alcohol, as well as the legalities of use in a realistic manner.

Alcohol abstinence at parties and other social events is recommended, especially since consumption is illegal for individuals under 21 years of age. One very powerful tool in communicating about this subject is to model the behavior that you want you teen to use. Parents are far more powerful than they often realize. Set a good example, as you are a blueprint of adulthood.

Peer pressure is frequently overwhelming for young people, especially when they don’t have a plan for handling unusual situations. Generating age-appropriate conversation between you and your teen is highly recommended. Parents and caregivers should be honest and forthcoming about alcohol because scare tactics are generally ineffective. Face-to-face conversation is the best way to communicate in a non-judgmental, non-threatening manner.

The most important message is obviously, “Don’t drink and drive.” However, that alone will not convey what is vitally important. Parents and teens need to develop a plan for their “what if” scenario. The discussion should revolve around ways to handle unexpected events. If the teen does drink, what do you want him/her to do? Should the teen call you or call a taxi? If they call you, they need to be assured that the situation will be handled calmly and appropriately. Being angry at a person who is intoxicated is like throwing water in a lake. It won’t make a difference. Wait until cooler heads prevail and intoxication is not an issue. Then proceed with a mutually respectful conversation. This is a great time to reiterate the plan or to make alterations to its content.

One of the more complex issues that teens and young adults may run into is alcohol poisoning, an issue that can happen anywhere, but is not uncommon on campuses and at parties. Due to their lack of experience, teens and young adults frequently do nothing out of fear when confronted with this situation. The most appropriate thing individuals can do is call 911 and get the individual the help needed.

As intoxication increases, so also does the toxicity of alcohol in the body. Severe alcohol intoxication is a dangerous situation. Medical attention should be sought by calling 911 if the following occurs:
  • Breathing rate drops below 12 breathes per minute, or if the individual stops breathing for periods of 10 seconds or more. 
  • You are not able to arouse or awaken the individual. 
  • Skin is cold, pale bluish in color, or sweaty.

An individual experiencing altered consciousness, slowed respirations, or cool, pale skin is experiencing a condition more severe than general intoxication. They are experiencing acute alcohol intoxication or alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning is a medical emergency which requires rapid medical intervention by calling 911. Individuals with alcohol poisoning should not be given food or liquids to sober up. This is dangerous to the individual, especially if the person is semi-conscious. Time is the only factor that sobers an individual because our bodies have to have time to process and detoxify the alcohol. If the person is vomiting, it is best to have him/her sit up or lie on one side rather than on lying on the back. This will help prevent aspiration and choking.

Knowing how to handle these situations will give your teen the confidence he/she needs to effectively handle what may become dangerous or life-threatening situations. Have a plan, have a conversation and help keep festive occasions enjoyable for both you and your teens.

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