Dear Dr. Dave and Dr Dee,
My husband's side of the family has had some trouble with alcoholism. I don't want alcohol to become a problem in our family. When is a good time to have a discussion with our children, ages 10 and 12, about the dangers of drinking? Should we wait until they are older and near driving age?
Dear Overly Worrying,
Now is a good time to alert them to the dangers of excessive drinking. You don't need to lecture or have a long discussion. Let the information flow naturally. For example, if you heard on the news about a college student who has died because of alcohol poisoning, then mention the tragedy to your children and discuss the dangers of potential death from alcohol poisoning or driving while drunk. If you're out with your children and see an intoxicated person, mention the health risks and downsides to drinking such as liver disease, stomach ulcers, damage to brain cells, and aging the skin.
Most importantly, set a good example and be a role model for your children by not drinking excessively at home. For example, limit drinking around your children and only have one drink when dining together in a restaurant.
Family Doctor offers the following alcohol facts for teenagers (www.familydoctor.org):
WHY SHOULD I SAY NO TO ALCOHOL?
Alcohol is a drug and you can become addicted to it. Alcohol changes the way your mind and your body work. This means anything that requires concentration and coordination - like driving - is dangerous when you've had a drink.
Alcohol also changes the way you act. It can make you let go of the feelings that keep you from doing things you know are risky or dangerous. This can lead you to make bad decisions - like having unsafe sex or driving when you know you shouldn't. You might think that it won't happen to you, but everyone knows someone who has said that and then ended up hurt.
WHAT PROBLEMS CAN ALCOHOL CAUSE?
Alcohol can ruin your health. The more you drink, the more damage is done. You can get alcohol poisoning if you drink too much. As the level of alcohol in your blood rises, the chemicals in your body can cause vomiting or seizures, or you may pass out.
Cirrhosis of the liver is one of the most well known effects of alcohol abuse. Cirrhosis stops the liver from being able to clean the toxins (poisons) out of your body. Alcohol can also cause stomach ulcers that lead to internal bleeding.
Other things alcohol can do to your body:
1. Make you gain weight
2. Make you feel sick or dizzy
3. Give you bad breath
4. Make you clumsy
5. Slur your speech
6. Make your skin break out
7. Make you feel out of control
WOULD ANYBODY CARE ABOUT MY DRINKING IF I WERE OLDER?
Yes. Even adults are warned about the risks of alcohol.
EVERYONE I KNOW DRINKS. WHAT SHOULD I DO?
You may be facing pressure from your friends who drink, you may be stressed out or you may think that drinking makes people like you. Whatever your reasons, remember that alcohol can harm your body. If you feel uncomfortable in a situation and need help saying no, get the support you need. Talk to your family doctor or another adult you trust.
HOW DO I KNOW I HAVE A PROBLEM?
Drinking is a problem if it causes trouble in your relationships, school and social activities, or how you think and feel.
If you answer, "yes" to any one of the following questions, you may have a drinking problem.
1. Do you sometimes drink more than you mean to?
2. Have you tried to cut back on your drinking and
3. Do you black-out (have trouble remembering things that happened) while drinking?
4. Have your problems at school, work or with your relationships increased since you started drinking?
5. Do you keep drinking even though you know it's causing you problems?
6. Do you drink when you feel stressed?
7. Do you drink alone?
8. Can you drink much more now than you used to be able to?
9. Do you ever feel uncomfortable when you haven't had a drink?
10. Do you drink even when it's important to stay sober?
How can I stop drinking?
The first step is to admit that you have a problem and you want to stop. Talk to your doctor, or a parent, school counselor, or spiritual leader. You can also contact Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), an organization that helps people with drinking problems get better. Visit their Web site at www.aa.org, or check your local phone book for an AA meeting near you.
HOW MUCH ALCOHOL IS REALLY IN A DRINK?
Beer usually contains 3% to 5% alcohol. Wine has 9% to 16%. Hard liquor usually contains the highest levels (up to 50%). Most states consider an adult to be intoxicated, or drunk, at 0.08% blood level of alcohol. For a man who weighs 170 pounds, this might mean only 4 beers (12-ounce cans) on an empty stomach in an hour. For a woman who weighs 137 pounds, this might mean less than 3 beers in an hour. For people under 21, many states now practice zero-tolerance laws, which means you are breaking the law if you have any alcohol in your system.
IS THERE ANYTHING I CAN DO TO SOBER UP?
No. It takes time for your body to get all the alcohol out of your system. Many people think coffee can help, but it can't make you sober or speed your reaction times if you've been drinking. It can make you think you're alert when you're really not.
For more information, see www.familydoctor.org
For help with alcohol problems, go to:
Students Against Destructive Decisions: www.saddonline.com
Mothers Against Drunk Driving: www.madd.org or call 800-GET-MADD (800-438-6233)
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence: www.ncadd.org or call 800-NCA-CALL (800-622-2255)
Al-Anon: www.al-anon.org or call
Alateen: www.al-anon.alateen.org or call
Alcoholics Anonymous: www.aa.org