Are You Driving Your Teen to Alcohol, Drugs?

Teenagers Who See Their Parents Get Drunk Are More Likely to Get Drunk, Use Drugs, Survey Says

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on August 26, 2009

Aug. 26, 2009 -- Teens who witness their parents tie one on are more likely to get drunk than teens who never see their parents imbibe, according to survey results released Wednesday at a news conference in Washington, D.C.

Researchers from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) of Columbia University in New York City polled 1,000 teens aged 12 to 17 and 452 of their parents about their attitudes on alcohol and drug use.

Of children who have one or more drink a month, 2/3 will get drunk at least once a month. “For most kids, just drinking also means getting drunk regularly; and we care about that for a lot of reasons, including driving accidents, risky sexual behavior, and assaults,” says Elizabeth Planet, vice president and director of special projects at CASA.

And it doesn’t stop at getting drunk either. “There is a connection between that drink, drunkenness, and regular substance use,” she says. Teens who get drunk at least once a month are 18 times more likely to smoke marijuana. Between 2007 and 2009, there was a 37% increase in the percentage of teens that said marijuana is easier to buy than cigarettes and beer, the survey found.

“Drinking is a sign,” she says. “If your kid is drinking regularly, don’t discard it as not serious.”

Compared to teens who have never tried alcohol, teens who get drunk monthly are:

  • Four times more likely to be able to get marijuana in an hour
  • Four times more likely to know someone who abuses prescription drugs
  • Twice as likely to know a girl who was forced to perform a sexual act, and
  • Four times more likely to know a guy who uses drugs or alcohol to hook up

The survey also asked teens how fast they could get their hands on prescription drugs. Nearly one in five said they can get these prescription drugs in an hour, and more than one-third can get them in a day, the survey showed. Growing numbers of teens are abusing a host of prescription drugs, including painkillers, sleeping pills, anti-anxiety drugs, and stimulants.

Father Knows Best

For the first time, the new survey asked specific questions about fathers’ attitudes toward drinking and drugs. Teens who think their father is OK with them drinking are two and a half times more likely to get drunk in a given month.

“If dads don't want their kids to be drinking or getting drunk, they should tell them that and make sure there is no confusion,” Planet says.

Do as I Say and as I Do

“What parents say is important and what they do is important,” she says. “The expectations that you set will also drive your kids’ behavior,” she says. “Set high expectations, be clear about these expectations, communicate these expectations, and model healthy behavior,” she says.

“There is no question that actions speak louder than words,” says Joseph A. Califano Jr., the founder and chairman of CASA and the author of How to Raise a Drug-Free Kid. But it’s not just ‘don’t get drunk in front of your kids,’ you also have to communicate with your children all along, have family dinners frequently, go to their games and events, and attend religious services as a family. Then when you do talk to them, you will really have some power to influence their conduct and get them to choose not to use.”

Show Sources


National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse: "National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XIV: Teens and Parents."

Elizabeth Planet, vice president and director of special projects, National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), Columbia University, New York.

Joseph A. Califano Jr., founder and chairman, National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse; author, How to Raise a Drug-Free Kid.

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