– Susan Tapert, Ph.D.
By the sixth grade most kids are trading in their dolls and toys for other hobbies like organized sports, clubs at school, and endless hours on the Internet. But, according to new research, around age 11, some kids may be trading their barbies for booze. When do most kids start drinking alcohol? Kim was only 12 when she started.
“I was drinking and then I was smoking, and then I tried so many different drugs,” says Kim, 15.
“She was experimenting with drugs and liquor. We had to put all the liquor away in the house, and she was going to friends houses and sampling,” says Jim Skinner, Kim’s father.
According to a study by the University of Minnesota, one in six children start drinking by the sixth grade. Research shows the earlier kids start the more likely they are to become addicted.
“If you have your first drink before age 14, you’re 4 times more likely to develop alcoholism in your life than if you wait until after age 20,” says Susan Tapert, Ph.D.
That’s why, experts say, the first line of defense against alcohol and drugs is parents who talk to their kids often and start when they’re young.
“You know, I can’t tell you how many times parents come in and they have never, never approached the word drugs or alcohol with their kids. They just want to ignore it. If they ignore it- it will go away and their kid won’t be involved,” says Shirley Kaczmarski Ed.D., educational director.
“Let them know the risks of their behaviors, and what the consequences might be and you can help them with handling those situations, and knowing what to do in order to avoid them,” says Rhonda Jeffries, M.D., pediatrician.
After months in counseling and a year in a school for troubled teens Kim is now drug and alcohol free.
“I’m very proud of myself,” says Kim.
The study also found the earlier kids start drinking, the less receptive they are to alcohol prevention programs.
Tips for Parents
Alcohol is a depressant, which means it slows the function of the central nervous system. Alcohol actually blocks some of the messages trying to get to the brain. This alters a person's perceptions, emotions, movement, vision, and hearing. (Nemours Foundation)
An effective way for parents to show care and concern is to openly discuss the use and possible abuse of alcohol and other drugs with their teenager.
Warning signs of teenage alcohol and drug abuse may include:
Physical: Fatigue, repeated health complaints, red and glazed eyes, and a lasting cough.
Emotional: personality change, sudden mood changes, irritability, irresponsible behavior, low self-esteem, poor judgment, depression, and a general lack of interest.
Family: starting arguments, breaking rules, or withdrawing from the family.
School: decreased interest, negative attitude, drop in grades, many absences, truancy, and discipline problems.
Social problems: new friends who are less interested in standard home and school activities, problems with the law, and changes to less conventional styles in dress and music.
The Consequences of Underage Drinking:
(National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
A person who begins drinking as a young teen is four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than someone who waits until adulthood to use alcohol.
During adolescence significant changes occur in the body, including the formation of new networks in the brain. Alcohol use during this time may affect brain development.
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among youth ages 15 to 20, and the rate of fatal crashes among alcohol-involved drivers between 16 and 20 years old is more than twice the rate for alcohol-involved drivers 21 and older. Alcohol use also is linked with youthful deaths by drowning, suicide, and homicide.
Alcohol use is associated with many adolescent risk behaviors, including other drug use and delinquency, weapon carrying and fighting, and perpetrating or being the victim of date rape.
Identifying adolescents at greatest risk can help stop problems before they develop. And innovative, comprehensive approaches to prevention, such as Project Northland, are showing success in reducing experimentation with alcohol as well as the problems that accompany alcohol use by young people. (NIAAA)
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)