Underage drinking mayhem?

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As the school year comes to an end across the United States, many teenagers will attend high school proms, celebrate high school or college graduations, and take trips to local beaches for senior week.

The combination of an abundance of alcohol with young people celebrating the end of a school year, or even the end of high school, can lead to many problems. While many of these seniors and other teenagers expect to have rules-free, fun-filled celebrations with their friends, they may very well engage in risky behaviors, such as:


  • Underage drinking
  • Drug use
  • Promiscuity and unprotected sex
  • Impaired driving.

Besides the risky behaviors listed above, teenagers may encounter other problems that are sometimes beyond their control. For instance, without adult guidance, teenagers may be at an increased risk for becoming victims of crimes such as theft, violence, injury, and rape.

But, parents can make a difference in preventing some of these behaviors by educating themselves about the activities teens are often exposed to during these late springtime celebrations.

Prom is usually the first event to mark the winding down of the school year. Students often spend months saving so they can rent luxurious limousines, eat at expensive restaurants, wear fancy dresses and tuxedos.

While many students do not drive on prom night, underage drinking is still dangerous. Alcohol can damage brain cells, interact negatively with medications, and lead to loss of control and violence. Binge drinking can lead to loss of consciousness and alcohol poisoning, which often results in death.

Parents should point out ways for their teenagers to enjoy prom without alcohol. Many schools offer "after-prom" parties, which begin at the end of the dance and usually last until morning. Promgoers can win prizes, play games, hang out with friends, and eat favorite foods.

High school and college graduations are such a special time for young people because their hard work has finally paid off with a diploma and the opportunity to move on to another part of their lives, which promises to be new and exciting. For many graduating seniors, it is a bittersweet time, when they may need to say goodbye to some of their school friends. Often, seniors head directly from their graduation ceremonies to parties to celebrate the promise of their new life. However, the focus of many of these parties is often drinking, specifically binge drinking.

One of the many concerns associated with graduation is impaired driving. In 2000, between 50 and 60 percent of all fatal car crashes that occurred on weekends during prom and graduation season were alcohol related, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Senior Beach Week
Every year during the first 3 weeks or so of June, thousands of teenagers, particularly high school seniors, head to the beach to celebrate the summer and their newfound freedom. Many of these teenagers hope to spend the week lounging on the beach with their friends during the day and drinking at night. However, many of these teenagers also end up engaging in unprotected sex, binge drinking, and risking their personal safety while under the influence of alcohol or illicit drugs.


What Can Parents Do?

Parents can help keep their teenagers safe during these upcoming activities by taking several important steps.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Talk with your child by calmly explaining your feelings about substance use and allow your child to talk about any questions or concerns he or she may have. Remember that communication involves not only speaking, but also listening to the child's opinions and emotions.

It is important that you let him or her know you do not approve of illicit drug and alcohol use because it is dangerous. Be firm, but nonjudgmental. Your child is too important to succumb to the risks of alcohol and drugs!

The following publications may help give you some ideas for talking with your child about this important subject:

It also is important for parents to ask their children where they will be at all times and what they will be doing. Ask your child for specifics and find out how you can reach him or her at all times.

Be Involved
Be actively involved in your child's life. Parents can check to see if their child's school will be holding after-prom or after-graduation parties. If so, offer to volunteer some time and work to ensure that the party will appeal to students. If your community does not offer these alcohol-free parties, find out from school officials if it is feasible to create a task force of parents and teachers to plan a party.

In addition, talk with your child's transportation provider and emphasize that you expect him or her to forbid drinking. Check school policies for underage drinking and contact the person in charge at all places your child will be during the course of the night. If your child says he or she will be hanging out at a friend's house after prom, call that friend's parents to ensure they will be supervising and that they have a zero tolerance policy for alcohol and illicit drugs.

During Beach Week, accompany your child on his or her vacation, if at all possible. This way, you may be able to keep your child and his or her friends safe by discouraging them from giving in to any temptations they may have to use alcohol or illicit drugs. Young people will be less likely to experiment with these substances if parents are nearby.

If you are unable to go on the vacation with your child, talk with the parents of your child's friends to see if any of them can go on the trip and monitor the young people's activities.

Discuss Safety With Your Child
Even if your child resists alcohol and drugs, he or she is still at risk for becoming victimized by them. Emphasize the importance of watching out for careless, and possibly drunken, drivers and using the "buddy system" so that he or she is with at least one friend at all times. Encourage your child to call you at any time if he or she needs a safe ride home or for any other reason.

Also stress the need for teenagers to keep an eye on their beverages while out and never accept a drink from someone they do not know. "Date-rape drugs," such as GHB and Rohypnol, can be slipped into a person's drink in mere seconds. The drugs are tasteless and odorless and the victim may not even be aware he or she is being drugged.

These drugs cause the victim to lose consciousness or be unable to move so that a person can take advantage of him or her. The following resources will provide you with more information about specific date-rape drugs:



The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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