Talking About Alcohol


Mothers Against Drunk Driving®

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How to use this guide

Underage drinking poses a special risk to young people. It is illegal and dangerous. This topical guide urges parents to: • Use recommended strategies about how to talk with your children about alcohol, even if it does not seem like they are interested in alcohol. Talk early, and talk often. • Read the information about peer pressure within this guide and think about ways you can help your children think through alternatives.

• Set clear family rules about not

drinking before 21 and how to follow through with consequences when agreements aren’t met.


What’s Inside

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A MESSAGE TO PARENTS FROM DR. TURRISI AND MADD Research shows that kids who drink are a danger to themselves, their friends and others. For over 20 years, hundreds of high quality clinical studies in the United States and Europe have shown that the earlier kids drink in life, the more severe the problems they will face in the short and long term. Science shows that a child’s brain works differently from an adult’s brain. It is important to realize that no matter how mature kids act, they are not simply small versions of adults. Kids’ brains are still in a critical period of development well into their 20’s. Alcohol interferes with how brains and bodies grow. As a parent, you have power to equip your child to make smarter, safer choices and to help prevent tragedies. This topical guide will help you understand your parenting style and its effect on your child’s choice to drink alcohol. We urge you to read MADD’s full parent handbooks, found at powerofparents, for more information on how to talk with your middle or high school-aged child to help shape the choices they make regarding alcohol. These conversations will have an impact on their physical and emotional development and could be lifesaving.

This is the third in a series of five topical guides. Download MADD’s full parent handbook at


A Message to Parents

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STARTING THE CONVERSATION As a parent, you can play a critical role in preventing your child from using alcohol. The key is having high-quality conversations. Keep in mind, research shows that parents who read these topical guides or the full handbooks found online at, and then have conversations with their child are far more effective. So what’s the first step after reading these materials? That’s simple, get started.

Know the facts

Did you know? •

Kids who start drinking young are seven times more likely to be in an alcohol-related crash. Adolescent drinkers perform worse in school, are more likely to fall behind, and have an increased risk of social problems, depression, suicidal thoughts and violence. High school students who use alcohol or other substances are five times more likely to drop out of school or believe good grades aren’t important. The earlier youth begin drinking alcohol, the more likely they are to have life-long alcohol problems. TALK! Talking about alcohol is not a one- time conversation. It’s not a box to check. It’s an ongoing, intentional and potentially lifesaving dialogue. Talk early, and talk

often. !


Starting the Conversation

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Getting teens or middle schoolers to talk about serious subjects can be tough. Think about a few of these tips before you get started. • Ask permission to talk about the topic: “Hey, I have been hearing a lot about underage drinking in the news lately. Is it okay if we talk about this for a few minutes?” • Don’t pick a time when they are distracted or exhausted. After they get home from sports practice or when they are trying to complete homework might not be a good time. • Use questions that start with what, how and why: “What do you think about underage drinking?” “How do you think it will end if someone gets into a car with a driver that has been drinking?” “Why might someone your age think they can drive after they have been drinking?” “Research shows that …” instead of “I think that…” • Talk through scenarios. Personalize the conversation: “If you were in a situation where you ended up at a party with alcohol, tell me what are things you could do?” • Keep facts and opinion separate: Use

Suspend your critical judgment while you listen attentively. This may be the single MOST IMPORTANT aspect of good communication.


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THE EFFECTS OF DRINKING ON THE BODY/PHYSICALLY HOW WHAT WHY CONVERSATION TOPICS Here are some topics you can use to guide your discussions using the how, what and why approaches.

What physical activities do you want to do in the future that drinking could hurt?

Why do you think some young people drink?

How do you think drinking helps or hurts the body?


Why do you think

How do you think drinking affects choices young people make?

What problems can happen when young people choose to drink?

some young people drink if it can have a negative impact on choices?



Why do you think some people would start drinking before 21?

How does drinking before the age

What answers could you give friends if they are pushing you to drink?

of 21 affect someone?

conversation. Keep it going. !

REMEMBER: Try to keep your cool and not display facial expressions showing anger or frustration if you hear things that you do not like. Your child needs you and this

Kids who drink before 21 are more likely to: • Face problems in school • Get assaulted • Abuse alcohol later in life • Drown or fall • Die in a car crash Share the Facts

6 Conversation Topics

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It can be frustrating trying to get your child to talk at length about a topic like alcohol. Some parents swear their child has a vocabulary of “Okay, Mom,” “I dunno,” “If you want,” and “Not now,” when it comes to serious topics. Respect your child’s feelings. Let them know that, though they may be too tired or busy right now, this is an important topic and you all can revisit it a little bit later. The following strategies will help you communicate most effectively: LISTEN: Allow them to speak without interruption. Sometimes it is good to paraphrase back what they said, “Let me see if I understand. It sounds like you feel…” You do not agree or disagree by doing this, and it shows them that you are listening. SPEAK WITH RESPECT AND APPRECIATION: Your children still value your approval! Tell them you are proud of them for having this conversation with you and for being able to handle tough situations. AVOID CONVERSATION “STOPPERS”: These are single statements that shut down any response like, “I better not catch you drinking or else.” Keep conversation constructive and avoid Alcohol can be a touchy subject, and you may not be ready for your child’s opinions, or they yours. Conflict is natural. This is an opportunity to learn and grow. If you or your child is becoming emotional, step away and start again at another time. entering into a debate. AGREE TO STEP AWAY:

7 Getting Your Child to Talk

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KEEPING IT REAL Prepare for the conversation by knowing some general facts about underage drinking. Here are a few to start with: BINGE DRINKING IS BAD NEWS: Binge drinking is drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time (specifically 5 drinks for males and 4 drinks for females in 2 hours). This kind of consumption is more likely to lead to overdose, assault, serious injury, and poor choices including the choice to drive after drinking. YOUNG PEOPLE DRINK DIFFERENTLY: The young brain has not yet developed the tools to protect itself from the damaging effects of alcohol. When youth drink, research shows they do it to get drunk and binge drink more often than most adults. DRINKING UNDERAGE CAN HAVE LIFELONG EFFECTS: Adults who started drinking at age 15 or 16 (or earlier) are five times more likely to be alcohol dependent than those who started drinking after age 21. COFFEE DOESN’T WORK: Once ingested, the liver starts to work trying to filter out the toxin of alcohol. It can only filter so much and work so fast. There is no proven way, other than time, to sober someone up faster. Coffee, exercise, fresh air, and showers will not work.

Download the full handbook online at powerofparents for more facts about underage drinking. Know the actual data versus common assumptions so you can set appropriate rules and consequences.

8 Keeping it Real

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REASONS TO RESPECT Here are some reasons that many youth respect and share as to why they choose not to drink: REASON 1: Underage Drinking is Illegal Find out what the actual local penalties are in your area. Most know 21 is the legal drinking age, but what are the Zero Tolerance laws where you live? Talk through the implications of getting in legal trouble: being kicked off a sports team or social activity, losing their license, financial costs, and so much more. REASON 2: Drinking Can Make You Sick or Pass Out Alcohol is a drug. As such it disrupts the normal functioning of multiple organs in your body including the digestive system. The body works naturally to preserve good things and eliminate bad things. When more of a dangerous substance is put into the body than it can naturally process, it looks for other ways to eliminate that substance. Alcohol sickness can happen suddenly and without warning, similar to passing out. REASON 3: Drinking and Sexual Assault Drinking makes youth more vulnerable to dangerous situations. Decision making is compromised as is the ability to evaluate and react to potential danger. Eighty percent of women who have been sexually assaulted were assaulted by someone they knew; many of these occurred when one or more of the individuals were drinking. REASON 4: Drinking Can Lead to Alcoholism Most young people have a negative perception of alcoholics and do not want to become an alcoholic themselves. The research is clear. The younger a person starts drinking, the higher their likelihood for addiction becomes!

9 Reasons to Respect

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CONSEQUENCES As a parent, be ready to follow through and enforce consequences if your child violates a family rule against underage drinking.


GET BEHIND 21: Did you know that 21 is one of the most researched laws? Numerous studies show that the 21 drinking age law has saved thousands of lives. There are no benefits to drinking underage. No matter where the study is conducted, the results are always the same. If drinking was helpful to young people wouldn’t doctors and teachers recommend it?


Impose a consequence if your teen violates an agreement. Impose consequences consistently. Be very clear about underage drinking. Be truthful and balance the conversation.

• •


Base your actions on anger.

• •

Impose a consequence arbitrarily, in the heat of the moment. Use scare tactics; these tend to cause teens to dismiss you and stop listening.

Download the full handbook online at powerofparents for more tips on assumptions vs. facts. Know the actual data versus common assumptions so you can set appropriate rules and consequences.

10 Consequences

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BOTTOM LINE • Go ONLINE for more helpful tips for talking about alcohol, and how to work through family agreements. This guide is meant to summarize the Power of Parents handbooks. MADD offers much more information in the full handbooks available for free. Download online at • You really do have the power to keep your kids safe. Talk now and talk often about alcohol and other dangerous drugs. Give them this helpful information, and then set clear expectations. Enforce consequences, but never do so while angry. Take a break and come back to the conversation. It may save their lives!

11 Bottom Line

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This series of resources can help parents substantially reduce the chance that their child will drink before the age of 21. Alcohol is the drug most commonly used by youth—more than all other illicit drugs combined. MADD’s Power of Parents handbooks are based on the latest research by Robert Turrisi, PhD at Penn State University, which when followed have shown up to a 30% reduction in underage drinking. The research- based principles and materials are not only useful to help parents have the critical discussions about alcohol with their children— from middle school through high school—but can also be applied when having discussions about all other drugs. By talking to children early and often, parents can prevent dangerous and deadly consequences from alcohol and other drugs. These intentional, ongoing and life-changing conversations will help keep youth, families and entire communities healthy and safe. Together we can create a future of No More Victims®.





MOTHERS AGAINST DRUNK DRIVING 511 E. John Carpenter Frwy, Suite 700 Irving, TX 75062

877.ASK.MADD 877.MADD.HELP 24-Hour Victim Help Line


© 2017 Mothers Against Drunk Driving

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