By Mira Wang
The holidays are a great opportunity to celebrate with family and friends—but now, it has also become a time when a cup of cheer becomes too many cups. This season, consider the example that you’re setting while enjoying that extra cheery eggnog.
A survey of more than 1,000 Americans by Alcohol.org found that 47% of men and 40% of women binge drink on New Year’s Eve, and around 20% of Americans binge drink during the winter holidays.
Adults and youth alike are receiving messages that normalize binge holiday drinking. Thrillist published an article about alcohol-filled advent calendars, and Eater just wrote about how to day-drink during holiday brunches. Rampant social media content and marketing normalizes high levels of alcohol consumption, and research shows that adults are more likely to binge drink during holiday celebrations.
An alcoholic fever, it seems, has overtaken responsible holiday cheer.
Teens today are busier than ever and many assume that they are not paying attention to adult holiday drinking habits. Unfortunately, research on this topic shows that teens have noticed and it’s impacting their behavior.
In the 2016 Illinois Youth Survey, 71% of 8th graders and 79% of 10th graders reported “no risk” or “slight risk” if they “have five or more drinks of an alcoholic beverage once or twice a week.” Some adolescents may be more likely to binge drink over the holidays, with an increased risk for older teenagers. We are normalizing unhealthy binge drinking.
For some youth, their initial exposure to alcohol occurs at home. Adolescents who observed their parents’ drinking and/or alcoholism in childhood are more likely to drink to intoxication in their teenage years. Further, research has found that letting children have “just a sip” of alcohol may lead to increased underage drinking by the time they enter high school. Families with a history of alcoholism need to be increasingly mindful of their drinking behavior and may want to reconsider sharing even a sip with their kids at the holiday table.
The good news is that parents and other adults are an important influence on whether their children drink alcohol. So, what can you do?
1. Set an example and monitor your own behavior. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines adult binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentrations levels to 0.08. Binge drinking is typically five drinks for men and four drinks for women— in about two hours. According to the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020,” U.S. Department of Agriculture, moderate drinking is up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.
2. Stay away from alcohol before driving
3. Do not give alcohol to your children (or allow other family members to give them alcohol).
It’s especially important to have discussions about underage drinking, set clear rules, enforce those rules, and monitor children’s behavior to reduce the likelihood of underage drinking.
If you do, you won’t be alone. Six out of ten parents and guardians of Chicago 8th graders have talked with their child about not using alcohol, and 85% of Chicago 8th graders and 77% of Chicago 10th graders say their family sets clear rules about alcohol and drug use.
This holiday season, talk with your children about underage drinking. They are watching and they are listening (regardless of what they tell you). They’re home on break, and you have an opportunity to spend quality time with them–make it valuable! The risk of underage drinking increases as children enter later adolescent years, so be proactive. Start setting rules when they’re young, and continue to have those conversations year after year.
Let’s make this holiday season about prevention–not about drinking. So, eat, drink, and be merry, but do so responsibly.
For more tips on how to chat with your children about underage drinking, visit https://igotthischicago.org/parents/tips-for-parents/.