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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

New Year's Resolutions for Teen Parents

This is from the Partnership for Drug Free America - an organization that deserves respect.

10 Resolutions That Show Your Kids You Care:

1. Teach your children to trust you by seeing you as a role model.

2. Be patient, not just tolerant. Apologize when you make a mistake or do something you regret.

3. Ask teens what they need from you – and do whatever you can to meet those needs.

4. Listen to your teens, a lot. Avoid interrupting.

5. Teach your children about ethics, values and principles they can apply in choices and decision making.

6. Help them discover the feeling of gratitude, not just to say thank you.

7. Keep the promises you make. If you do not keep your word, acknowledge that. Help your teen understand the circumstances or choices that precipitated the change in your plans.

8. Answer your teen’s questions and be consistent. When you notice behavioral changes in them, make yourself available and encourage them to talk about what is going on in their life.

9. Be understanding when they have a difficult time and let them know you will love them no matter what.

10. Be diligent. Have ongoing conversations with your kids about the risks of drugs and alcohol.

Friday, December 4, 2009

What is Proof - And Why Does it Matter?

Proof is the commonly used measure of how much alcohol is in an alcoholic drink. You take the percentage of alcohol in a drink and double it to get the proof measurement. The amount of alcohol in a bottle is regulated by law and affects taxing it.

Proof is one of those hold-out terms, the ones that stay despite long gone origins. In the 18th century and up until about 30 years ago, Britain defined alcohol content in terms of “proof spirit.” The British term started when payments to British sailors included rations of rum. To save money, sometimes the rum would be watered down and the alcohol content very low.

So the sailors would toss gunpowder into the rum to see if it would light on fire. If there wasn’t enough alcohol, it didn’t burn and was considered to be “under-proof.”

Different types of alcohol have different proof levels in part because of what they’re made from. Here’s some more information on how much alcohol is in a single drink:

Beer – The alcohol content of beer in the U.S. is usually between 3-6%. Grains, malts and lager beers can have higher alcohol content.

Wine – American wine is between 9-14 percent alcohol. Fortified wines have alcohol content higher than 14 percent. These wines contain added alcohol or brandy to increase the alcohol content to approximately 20 percent.

Hard Liquor – The alcohol content can be up to about 14% legally in one drink of distilled spirits, for goods sold in the United States. This can vary in other countries, for instance in Japan the alcohol content in a single drink can be substantially higher.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Stupid Things Drunks Do

This 27 year-old woman was so trashed that she fell in the T's tracks (Boston) and despite an oncoming train couldn't get up. She's incredibly lucky and I hope she knows it. A great teachable moment for children on why drinking heavily is bad.


Friday, November 6, 2009

Alcoholics Annonymous and Why It Works

While researching my book, Delaying that First Drink: A Parents' Guide, I went to the 2009 meeting of the International Conference of Young People in Alcoholics Anonymous (ICYPAA). More than 2,200 people spent a holiday weekend talking about alcohol, prayer, why they no longer drink, and the 12 Steps they all believe saved their lives.

They told family stories that could make you cry -- of alcoholic or drug addicted parents, or drinking to feel better and in many cases as they put it just to “feel normal.” Others talked of families with one or two loving parents in what they considered a good home, and sneaking alcohol from a young age.

The majority of those I met and listened to:

• Started drinking in middle school or the first year of high school. Ages ranged from nine (drinking vanilla extract from the kitchen cabinet) to 14 (when alcohol and drugs became easier to get)

• Had problems with multiple addictions to alcohol and drugs

• Came from families with a history of alcoholism and drug addiction

• Felt awkward or different from other children all through school, didn’t have many friends, and describe their first drink as making all of that go away.

These meetings are held under a veil of secrecy (only first names and last initials are used). What's cathartic is finding others who share the same experiences as you. Some of the people I talked to were sober for a year or two - others for decades. What they share is the experience and the desire to stay that way.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Swine Flu Versus Alcohol? I'll take the Alcohol

I've had swine flu. I had it in the 1970s when they made a series of ads that will blow your mind - here's the link on youtube - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ASibLqwVbsk about how we should all get vaccinated. Then the vaccination killed some people or gave them very rare, fatal diseases. No wonder there's a backlash against vaccination by parents right now.

What's bad about swine flu is that it doesn't act like other flus. It doesn't prey on babies, the old and the sick. It makes perfectly healthy people violently ill and can kill them. That's pretty frightening.

Swine flu is horrible. I was in bed for six straight days, alone most of the time, and the first few barely able to crawl to the bathroom. I have never been that sick before or since. And I lost eight pounds.

So the idea of my kids getting swine flu scares me more at this time than catching my son sneaking a beer. (Like I actually have beer in the house). But I got to wondering how would drinking alcohol as a teenager would affect resistance to swine flu?

Use hand sanitizers that have alcohol in them. They are better, stronger, last longer I guess. A good time to remind your middle school student that alcohol is in alot of things that we don't drink. And it's used as a disinfectant - doesn't that make it sound appealing?

Don't share drinks with anyone. Swine flu is airborne which means if the person next to you on the metro has it you can catch it. If you want to ratchet up your chances of getting it share a Coke or a beer with your neighbor. It's a pretty sure fire way to make sure if either of you has it the other will get it.

Avoid drinking alcohol or smoking if you're sick. Yes we know this. But if we're not that sick or on the road to recovery alcohol will hurt us too. It weakens the immune system and makes us worse.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

TMI? No This Is Good Research

Most colleges and universities have an office on campus that can help students who have drug and alcohol problems. Links are on their web sites). Many of the research groups are heavily academic and inaccessible to the general public. These are two that are.

National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA)
New York, NY

CASA Columbia is the only national organization that studies the use of alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana and other drugs across a broad swath of the American population. Its National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XIII: Teens and Parents comes out every August and offers valuable information on what helps prevent and encourage alcohol and drug abuse within families.

University of California at Berkeley, Alcohol Research Group
Berkeley, CA

Established in 1959, the Public Health Institute is one of 18 academic research groups funded by the federal government that studies the affects of alcohol on people of all ages. It publishes information that can be of use to parents.

One product is Don't Panic! A Parent's Guide to Understanding and Preventing Alcohol and Drug Abuse which details how to raise children in a world where they confront drugs —legal or illegal — every day.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

New High School Freshman More Likely to Drink

According to a recent study from CASA Columbia, 14 year-olds are three times more likely than 13 year-olds to attend parties where parents are “supervising” and kids are drinking alcohol behind their backs. Science can help you broach the subject without seeming preachy.

In the spring of 2009, I attended the 51st International Conference of Young People in Alcoholics Anonymous (ICYPAA), sat in on more than a dozen sessions, interviewed attendees, and listened to the stories of many others.

Almost all of these young alcoholics began drinking in middle school or freshman year of high school.


High school can be terrifying. No matter what your children hear from friends and older siblings, they cannot imagine what high school will be like. They desperately want to fit in. If that means chugging Red Bull, the may well do it. If their friends have upgraded to beer, they will consider and possibly do that.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Food Fight? No it's Family Dinner

Anyone who has teens knows, and yes I do, that family dinners can be wonderful for all and they can also be a moment where you want to throw food at your kids. But their importance is vital to raising a healthy, alcohol and drug free kid.

A new report by CASA Columbia underscores just how important the family dinner is to keeping teens safe and away from drug and alcohol abuse.

Teens who have dinner with their families five or more times per week are 2x as likely to smoke cigarettes or marijuana; 1.5X likelier to drink alcohol, and 2x twice as likely to try drugs in the future.

Research comes from The Importance of Family Dinners V, a new report by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University.

"The magic of the family dinner comes not from the food on the plate but from who's at the table and what's happening there. The emotional and social benefits that come from family dinners are priceless," said Elizabeth Planet, CASA's Vice President and Director of Special Projects.

People have been driving this point home for decades - here's one from the 1950s that shows how far we've come.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Listen and Engage When you Talk to Your Kids About Alcohol

A recent report found that talking to kids about alcohol and drug use can influence their behavior and reduce the number of teens that try it. While the results are not startling, every little bit helps. For example, when parents talked to teens about:

• Alcohol - 16.2% of teens used it, versus 18.3% who did not
• Cigarettes - 10.6% of teens used it, versus 12.5%
• Illegal drugs - 9.5% of teens used it, versus 11.7%

Also you must remember to listen to what your kids have to say.

Mary Lou Lipscomb, a former middle school science teacher who taught for 34 years, explains, “If your kid comes home and says his friend Jamie got busted, ask questions like did you think the punishment was fair or not? Then listen to what else he has to say.”

Listening validates an adolescent in a way that almost nothing else can. Lipscomb explains that when she taught eighth grade, she let her students lead their parent conferences. Parents knew about this ahead of time. She says the response was overwhelmingly positive, because the kids had a voice in telling their parents what was happening in school. If you’re really listening then:

• Stop what you are doing

• Look at your child

• Clear your mind and give your full attention

• Comment on what you think you heard

• Let your child tell you if you’re right, and if she says you’re not, ask her to explain

• Keep asking questions until you understand what they said

• Respond if asked to, but otherwise just start listening again.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Best Videos on Alcohol and Science

There are a growing number of alcohol and science videos on YouTube. Here are the ones that will help engage students and parents in how alcohol affects the body and mind.

College Health Guru does short takes that explain the science of how alcohol affects our bodies – aimed at college and high school kids.

Alcohol and the Beer Belly


Great Ad on Why Kids Shouldn’t Drink and Drive


Alcohol and the Digestive System.


Professor Funk Talks About Alcohol and Drugs


Alcoholics and Virtual Reality to Stop Drinking


Alcohol and Robotics


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Teens Clueless About What Alcohol Does to Their Bodies

AAAS surveyed about 150 middle school students on their knowledge of alcohol and science. The result: They know almost nothing. Here is some of what we learned:

1. What are the main body systems affected by alcohol?

Thirty percent of respondents could not answer the question, 10% mentioned at least one body system that is affected by alcohol, and the rest named organs or gave answers that didn’t respond to the question.

(Correct Answer: All body systems are affected by alcohol because it throws through them in our blood. The major ones affected are the central nervous, cardiovascular, digestive and endocrine systems).

2. What is the alcohol that people drink made from?

Almost 50% of students had no idea where alcohol came from. Six percent thought it came from a plant, and 12% said it came from a combination of yeast, barley, hops, grapes, or a combination of all three. A few responses:

• I do not know. I think you make wine by squishing fruit in a tub.
• I think it is made from corn.
• Nicotine I think, or is that only cigarettes?
• I don’t really know, but there must be some kind of addictive material in there, right?

(Correct Answer: Alcohol comes from fermentation, the process through which carbohydrates such as sugar are turned into alcohol. Sugar is found in fruits such as grapes, which is how wine is made.)

3. Why does alcohol make people drunk?

Twenty nine percent did not know the answer, and the rest thought they knew, guessed, or provided some semblance of a correct answer. Responses included:

• Nerves in the body get over-active, and then you have no control over them.
• Alcohol affects your blood system and causes your brain to not function clearly.
• It messes up the immune system.
• Many chemicals are in the drink that the body can't handle it.
• Alcohol slows down the nervous system.

(Correct Answer: Ethyl alcohol is a psychoactive drug, meaning it’s a chemical that alters brain function, causing temporary changes in behavior, mood, and perception, among other things.)

Compelling Video of A Young Girl Talking About Future Alcoholism
(Yes it's an ad but it's a good one)


Friday, August 28, 2009

What Happened Last Night?

If your teen drinks, it's likely she may not remember what happened the night before.

Heavy drinking can cause blackouts - episodes where you can't remember what you did - sometimes for long periods of time. Black outs are common among teens who drink heavily because the part of their brains that processes memory, the hippocampus, is not finished developing.

Aaron White, PhD with the National Institutes of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), and his former colleagues at Duke University, surveyed 772 college undergraduates. They asked them them if they ever had a blackout.

Of the students who had drunk alcohol, 51% reported blacking out at some point in their lives and 40% reported experiencing a blackout in the year before the survey.

The students later learned that what they didn't remember included stealing, unprotected sex, and drunk driving.

Equal numbers of male and female students reported experiencing blackouts, despite the fact that the boys drank more alcohol, more often than the girls. The research suggests females may tend to black out more often and have more incidents of other forms of alcohol-induced memory loss.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Do You Really Want to Die From Drinking?

She looks like she's sleeping - but she could have Alcohol Poisoning.

Nearly one million teens are binge drinkers - meaning they reach a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08. For most adults this means consuming five drinks for men or four for women over a two-hour period.

When a person’s body absorbs too much alcohol, it can have a direct impact on the central nervous system, breathing, heart rate and gag reflex. This can lead to choking, coma and even death.

Victims of alcohol poisoning can lose the ability to swallow, because their gag reflex, a motor response from the body that prevents choking, shuts down. If they're passed out they can choke on vomit, accidentally inhaling it into their lungs. If you can't breathe, you die.

Even if you survive alcohol poisoning you may have irreversible brain damage.

What are the Signs of Alcohol Poisoning?

• Confusion and stupor

• Vomiting

• Seizures

• Slow or irregular breathing

• Hypothermia

• Unconsciousness

Check out this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6E_T_NQjJDo

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Kids Cannot Argue with the Science of How Drinking Hurts

I was chatting with a fellow mom recently about our 13 year-old sons, one of those reassuring parent conversations when both of you realize your child’s crazy behavior is normal for his age.

We discussed how our sons had figured out that the end of eighth grade doesn’t count toward high school. That they are scared of taking this next step but will not admit it. That they don’t appear all that interested yet in girls, alcohol, or drugs.

According to a recent study, 14 year-olds are three times more likely than 13 year-olds to attend parties where parents are “supervising” and kids are drinking alcohol behind their backs. Science can help you broach the subject without seeming preachy.

In the spring of 2009, I attended the 51st International Conference of Young People in Alcoholics Anonymous (ICYPAA), sat in on more than a dozen sessions, interviewed attendees, and listened to the stories of many others. Almost all of these young alcoholics began drinking in middle school or freshman year of high school.

Why? High school can be terrifying. No matter what your child hears from friends and older siblings, she cannot imagine what high school will be like. She desperately wants to fit in. If that means chugging Red Bull, she may well do it. If her friends have upgraded to beer, she will consider and possibly do that.

Now that you’ve heard why you should talk to your adolescent about alcohol and science, and have a better understanding of how alcohol affects the body, it’s time to begin the discussion. Even though your child might be arguing with you about everything else, it’s hard to argue with science. That’s what we’re counting on.

Here's a YouTube video you and your teen should check out.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Alcohol Affects Every Body System

You cannot understand how a computer works just by listing its parts. The connections and processes must be understood to determine what makes the computer work. The same is true of the human body.

Since it travels in the body through the blood alcohol affects every body system. The main ones affected are the digestive, central nervous, cardiovascular, and endocrine systems. When an outside chemical like alcohol is introduced into the body, it affects parts of these systems and different organs within them in different ways.

Alcohol dilutes itself in the water volume of the body to travel through its systems. Vital organs such as the brain, that contain a lot of water and need an ample blood supply, are particularly vulnerable to the effects of alcohol.

Why do women drink less and feel alcohol's affects more? Muscle tissue contains more water than fat tissue, so men, who have more muscle and less fat on their bodies than women, will have about 10% more water in their bodies.

Yes, different kinds of alcohol affect the body in different ways. For example, undiluted alcohol (such as a shot of vodka or tequila) is generally absorbed faster than diluted alcohols (mixed drinks), which are absorbed faster than wine or beer.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Why do teens drink?

When I interviewed teen alcoholics they told stories about how they always felt different until they took that first drink. Drinking gave them a feeling of normalcy of finding what they'd been looking for. The world grew brighter. They were smarter, less shy, more willing to be part of the crowd.

But it was a false normalcy if you will because with it came the inability to control how much they drank. They make a powerful argument for genetics playing a big role in early drinking.

Here's Some of Holly's Story:

Growing up, alcohol was rarely served in Holly’s house. Yet in her early teens, she took a bottle of whiskey from a small bar in the living room to the basement, mixed it with grapefruit juice, and drank all of it. She doesn’t remember much after that.

The first time Holly got drunk at a party, she blacked out and was gang raped. That gasp you hear is other parents reading this. One of her four brothers is an alcoholic. She found out much later that her grandfather was an alcoholic who drove his car onto her town’s railroad tracks, passed out, and got hit by a train.

“I drank by myself and at parties,” Holly said. “I never knew about the history of alcoholism in our family until I was much older. “ Holly is sober now and has been for a long time. She's a middle school teacher. And she still goes to AA meetings.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Cool Science and Alcohol Sites for Kids

It's not easy to find sites that will help kids learn the science of alcohol but we're trying. I've been reviewing and researching sites and here's what I've found.

The Cool Spot
Washington, DC
Created for kids ages 11 to 13 by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the site, which is colorful and uses cartoon drawings of kids to get its points across, has a lot of good, clearly written information for kids. Created by the NIAAA, there is a section for teens to tell their stories.

If you're looking for information you can trust about kids and teens that's free of "doctor speak," you've come to the right place. KidsHealth is a general health site that includes valuable information for younger children and teens about alcohol and science. http://kidshealth.org/teen/drug_alcohol/alcohol/alcohol.html

BBC Science and Nature: Human Body and Mind
http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/body/index_interactivebody.shtml - This excellent web site provides activities to learn about each body system. Check out the organs game, muscle game and skeleton game.

This site has 15-17 minute videos of each body system. The information is very good even though your child may not be willing to sit through more than one of them. Start with the one on the CNS. http://videos.howstuffworks.com/hsw/20869-human-body-systems-the-nervous-system-video.htm

Neuroscience for Kids
Created by Dr. Eric Chudler, Ph.D., a neuroscientist and director of education and outreach at the University of Washington Engineered Biomaterials in Seattle, WA, this site focuses primarily on neuroscience. Check out the section on neurons which show how they work within the human body.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Think Your Kid Isn't Drinking in Middle School - Read This

Tracking reports of middle school drinking for six months revealed multiple incidents that made it to online news or were discussed on blogs. Here are a few:

At Gulf Breeze Middle School in Santa Rosa, CA, the 2008-2009 school year ended with four students expelled for possessing and distributing alcohol on school grounds. Eleven students from other middle and high schools were expelled that same week for alcohol and/or drug possession.

At Ponus Ridge Middle School in Norwalk, CT, 22 middle school students were caught consuming alcohol on school grounds. Principal Linda Sumpter said the students included boys and girls from sixth, seventh and eighth grades. Allegedly, three of the students were selling alcohol they brought from home disguised in iced tea and Gatorade bottles.

At Timberland Middle School in Plaistow, NH, principal Michael Hogan sent a note home to parents telling them only clear bottles could be brought to school. Students were caught with alcohol on school grounds, and because the bottles were colored they could not immediately tell the kids were drinking alcohol. The police were not called.

At Redland Middle School in Rockville, MD, nine sixth and seventh grade students were disciplined after alcohol was brought into the bleachers before the start of school. Former principal Carol Weiss recommended them for suspension or expulsion.

In Norfolk, VA, three weeks after the death of Taylor Meyer, a 17-year-old Plainville girl who drowned after wandering away from a teen drinking party, kids drank alcohol like it hadn’t happened. Thirty three teens, most of them schoolmates and neighbors of the deceased girl were arrested for underage binge drinking at two parties. Parents expected her death would act as a warning to other area teens. Not a chance.