Because of all the publicity, you might naturally think that most underage drinking deaths are related to driving while intoxicated. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) wants parents to know that the dangers of underage drinking are even greater off the roadways.
MADD analyzed 2010 data from the FBI, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on deaths related to underage alcohol use.
What they found may surprise you. The study showed that only 32 percent of underage drinkers died from traffic related deaths. 68 percent were from other causes. Researchers found that 30 percent died from homicides, 14 percent from suicide, 9 percent from alcohol poisoning and 15 percent from “other” causes.
"As parents, we are definitely aware of the dangers of drinking and driving," says MADD national President Jan Withers. "I think we're not as educated about all the dangers that drinking before age 21 can be related to. And they're very, very real."
Child health experts agree that talking with your child about alcohol use should begin before they are at the age where temptation and availability are present. That can range anywhere from pre-teen to college age. It’s never too late to have that discussion.
Sometimes parents mistakenly believe that if a child is introduced to alcohol drinking in the home that it’s much safer for them. They believe that their kids are in a controlled environment and not on the road afterwards. But as the analysis shows, being on the road isn’t the only concern parents should be thinking and talking about.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that one-quarter of people ages 12-20 (9.7 million children) reported drinking within the previous month. Among those who did not illegally buy booze themselves, 21.4 percent were supplied alcohol from parents, guardians or other adult family members.
Bill Windsor, Nationwide Insurance’s associate vice president of consumer safety said "Parents think, 'If they do it here, they won't do it somewhere else,' " he says. "But that's just not the case. It's important for parents to know that there is a significant danger here and it goes deeper than just taking away the car keys."
Studies and surveys have shown that kids who drink do worse in school, get pregnant at higher rates, are more likely to carry out or be the victim of physical or sexual assault, engage is high risk behaviors, and have a higher frequency of alcoholism later in life.
On MADD’s website blog, Debbie Taylor writes about her decision to ignore a bottle of rum her teen-age son, Casey, had hidden in the garage. She knew he drank occasionally with his friends, but “put it off as ordinary teenage stuff.” She had already talked to him about drinking and driving, telling him the risks were too great. He seemed to understand and take it to heart.
Four months after she found the rum, he died of alcohol poisoning. He had been hanging out and drinking with his friends.
She writes on her blog, “If only I had talked with Casey about the dangers of underage drinking and told him that I didn’t want him drinking at all until he was 21! I had blinders on when it came to alcohol, youth, peer influences and the dangers that come with the independent, recklessness and perceived invincibility of youth. I had the illusion that outside influences weren’t a big factor—what they saw on TV or in the movies, or how friends or family could influence his actions. The myths we tell ourselves—“we did it when we were young and nothing bad happened” and “it’s normal, everyone does it”, “it’s a rite of passage” or “it’s harmless experimentation and how else are they going to learn,” are all false! We need to change our thinking and the drinking culture that is so prevalent in our communities”.
All the thoughts a grieving parent would have after such a tragedy.
Follow Debbie’s advice and have that important conversation with your own child about alcohol. Not just about drinking and driving but all the dangers associated with drinking. Keep having it until they understand. Kids are most influenced by two factors - peers and parents. Use that power to inform and influence your child’s thinking and actions. That’s all you can do. The rest is up to them.
Sources: Larry Copeland, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/04/17/underage-drinking-madd-alcohol/2070405/