Parents, students warned about teen alcohol abuse

Posted April 06, 2009, at 8:25 p.m.

Maine parents aren’t as smart as they think they are. According to recent data, only 4 percent of parents believe their teenage kids have consumed alcohol in the past month, but a full 28 percent of teenagers say they have.

“Parents are getting fooled,” said Guy Cousins, director of the Maine Office of Substance Abuse. “We want to give them some tools they can use to help keep their kids from drinking.”

Cousins was in Bangor on Monday, spreading the word about Alcohol Awareness Month — this month — and promoting the state’s campaign to drive down teen drinking rates by educating parents.

“It’s not rocket science,” he said of the effort to reach parents. “It’s basically just effective parenting. We’re telling them what they already know.”

Here are some of the state’s recommendations:

• Limit teens’ access to alcohol. If you have alcohol at home, keep it where your kids can’t get it, and keep track of how much is in each bottle.

• Know your kids’ friends, and know their parents. If other parents don’t share your values regarding drugs and alcohol, be wary.

• Establish firm rules about underage drinking and enforce them consistently.

• Before your teen goes out to a party, ask whether adults will be present and whether alcohol will be available.

• Be awake when your teens come home at night and ask about their activities.

Despite high-profile concerns about opiates and other illicit drugs, alcohol is by far the most commonly abused drug in Maine, according to the substance abuse office.

At a State House ceremony Monday, Gov. John Baldacci designated April as Alcohol Awareness Month in Maine, and said prevention and education efforts have driven down rates of underage drinking in recent years.

Still, “alcohol remains the number one drug of choice for Maine’s young people, with devastating consequences,” he said.

Also on Monday, first lady Karen Baldacci led a “teach-in” at Reeds Brook Middle School in Hampden. The event was organized by Bangor Region Public Health and Wellness.

Cousins said too many parents fail to recognize alcohol as the serious threat it is to their children’s health and safety. In some communities, he said, teen drinking is viewed as inevitable and even as a rite of passage to maturity. Parents and other adults sometimes provide alcohol and a “safe” place to drink it, he said, succumbing to the false notion that preventing young drinkers from driving protects them from tragedy.

In reality, Cousins said, many more intoxicated teens are injured or killed by fights, fires, falls and alcohol poisoning than by driving under the influence of alcohol.

In addition, research shows that habitual drinking at an early age can permanently damage the developing brain.

“The lost productivity and potential is tragic,” Cousins said.

Another “myth,” he said, is that European cultures promote responsible drinking by allowing alcohol consumption at younger ages. International studies show that countries with permissive drinking laws such as Italy and France have much higher rates of teen alcohol abuse than the United States does, he said.

“Parents think they’re saving their kids, when actually they are holding a loaded gun to their heads,” he said.

On the Web: www.maineparents.net

mhaskell@bangordailynews.net

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