The Truth

The Town of Darien is above par on many indicators of success. When it comes to parenting, we excel at providing our children with every opportunity to nurture their potential. We feed them organic whole foods, we limit sugar intake, sign them up for tutoring, encourage stimulating extracurriculars, and make sure they get enough sleep at night.

However, there is one area where many of us are unwittingly stunting our kids' health and brain development. We allow them to drink alcohol, or turn a "blind eye" to their partying. We allow them to drink under the assumption that it is just a little, relatively harmless "social" drinking or that they need to learn how to handle alcohol before they go to college. The reality is that for most teens, any and all drinking is binge drinking. Connecticut's latest student survey data indicates that 30% of 9-12th graders had consumed alcohol in the past 30 days. Darien's 9-12th graders? 45%.

Why aren't we as diligent about alcohol use as we are about their academics, eating and sleeping habits?

Alcohol is a neurotoxin. Early alcohol introduction causes profound damage to the teen brain. The legal consequences of serving minors or failing to stop teen alcohol use are significant. Let's start with some facts.

If you suspect your child is abusing alcohol, HELP is available: 2-1-1 Connecticut Info Line: 24/7 phone
OR
Crisis Text Line (CTL)
Text CTL to 741741
Need help Now?

The Talk

1/3 of teens have never had a serious discussion with their parents about the dangers of alcohol or drug use. Many who haven't had these conversations wish that they could discuss substance abuse openly and honestly with Mom & Dad.* Children whose parents have clear discussions with them about the risks of substance abuse before the age of 10 are less likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol early on.** In fact, 83% of youth cite their parents as the leading influence in their decision not to drink alcohol.***

Did you know?

How you drink is a model for how your children will drink. Role-modeling good decision making and responsible behavior is one of the most impactful ways your children will learn how to make healthy decisions regarding alcohol consumption. In many cases, what parents role-model has a greater impact than what parents say. A study by the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine reported that during role-play scenarios, children as young as four were mimicking their parents' use of alcohol.

Take the Talk Test:

Parents, can you really “talk the talk” when it comes to communicating effectively with your children about drinking? Take this test and find out.

*How to Raise a Drug Free Kid, Dr. Joseph Califano
**Hawkins, J.D. Graham, J.W. Magiun E, Abbot R, Hill and Cataleno, R. Exploring the effects of age of alcohol use initiation and psychosocial factors on subsequent alcohol misuse, Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 1997
***The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility

  • 9 out of 10 people who abuse or are addicted to alcohol, nicotine or other drugs began using these substances before they were 18.
  • People who began using addictive substances before age 15 are 7 times more likely to develop a substance problem than those who delay first use until age 21 or older.
  • Every year that substance abuse is delayed during the period of adolescent brain development, the risk of addiction and substance abuse decreases.
  • 65% of teens report that they get their alcohol from family and friends.
  • Survey results show the average age Darien students start drinking is 13.7.

Source: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Drinking in America: Myths, Realities and Prevention Policy. (2005)

The Toxins

The toxic effects of drugs and alcohol can cause permanent damage to your child's brain.
 

During adolescent years, the brain is still in development, and thus more sensitive to the harmful consequences of alcohol. In fact, an adolescent can drink half as much as an adult and still experience the same negative effects. Learning and memory function are more impaired than in adults, and the damage to the adolescent brain can be irreversible. A recent study led by neuroscientist Susan Tapert of the University of California, San Diego compared the brain scans of teenagers who drink heavily (binge drink) with the scans of teenagers who do not.

The Results:
  • Binge drinkers did worse on thinking and memory tests when compared to non-binge drinkers
  • Binge drinking girls performed more poorly on tests of spatial functioning, an essential skill linked to mathematics and engineering tasks
  • Binge drinking boys demonstrated poor performance on a test of attention, including being able to focus on something that might be somewhat boring for a sustained period of time
In Dr. Tapert's Words

"The magnitude of the difference [between the binge drinkers and the non-drinkers] measured at about 10%. Basically the difference between an A and a B." She then went on to evaluate the physical effects to brain matter itself, noting a marked difference in the white matter of binge drinkers.
"They appeared to have a number of little dings throughout their brains' white matter, indicating poor quality. And poor quality of the brain's white matter indicates poor, inefficient communication between brain cells. These results were actually surprising to me because the binge drinking kids hadn't, in fact, engaged in a great deal of binge drinking.

They were drinking on average once or twice a month, but when they did drink, it was relatively high quantity of at least four or five drinks on an occasion."

ThinkBefore you let them drink

For Parents:

Despite good intentions, some parents inadvertently give consent for underage drinking in their home by turning a blind eye to a potential party or serving minors in their home under the assumption that they will be more "safe" if they stay at home. These decisions can have lifelong repercussions for your kids. Before setting your family rules about underage drinking, make a commitment to get educated about the facts. When parents have the facts about teen drinking and brain research, they can make informed decisions about their family rules and communicate their values to their kids about alcohol use.

Social Host Laws

In Connecticut, allowing anyone under the age of 21 to possess alcohol in any dwelling unit or on private property is a criminal offense punishable by up to one year in jail for the person who owns or controls the property.

Any adult who is aware of drinking by anyone under age 21 on private property and fails to take reasonable steps to halt that drinking can also go to jail for up to a year.

For Teens:

The State of Connecticut has enacted minor in possession laws that make it illegal for you to possess or consume alcohol on either private or public property.

Driver's License Suspension:
You will be subject to a 150 day suspension of your driver's license. If you don't have a license yet, you will have to wait 150 days before being eligible to apply for a driver's license.

Fines:
You will have to pay a fine ranging from $200-$500

School:
You may be subject to in-school discipline, including suspension, which may be reported to colleges.