Monday, December 12, 2011

What Do You Think?: Alcohol Use


Dani is fourteen years old and has lived with her younger brother and grandma since she was ten. She used to live with her happily married parents until her mom died of cancer five years ago. Soon after her death, Dani's father started drinking, only a few beers after work late at night, but it quickly escalated.
His drinking got in the way of him being a present or supportive parent. Dani and her dad were super close, but when her father started drinking more, he became aggressive and argumentative. Dani was depressed about the loss of her mom, upset that her dad basically didn't exist in her life anymore, but even more than that, she really missed their happy family. She tries to be a good sister, but her brother is too young to understand and still idolizes their father.
Over the past 3 months, Dani and her friends have started drinking before football games at their friend's house. Dani quickly learned she could drown out her sadness and worries with alcohol and discovered that she loves the feeling of being drunk. She knows drinking is bad and wants to stop but she craves the numbness that being drunk provides. She thinks that so long as she isn't an "angry drunk" like her father, it's okay. As she seeks out opportunities to drink, her grades & friendships start to decline. Her friends start to see that Dani's only fun when she's drinking, depressed and solemn when she isn't, so Dani sometimes finds herself sneaking her dad's tequila from his closet to get a quick buzz and so her friends will want to spend time with her. She wants to stop, but doesn't want her friends to stop hanging out with her. She also doesn't want to feel the pain of knowing her family will never be the same. It's going to be a hard holiday season.

Questions for Discussion:

1. Why do you think Dani enjoys drinking so much?
2. Do you think Dani is an alcoholic, why or why not? What makes someone an alcoholic?
3. What might happen if she continues drinking and doesn’t get help? (consider family, friends, school, relationships, physical issues, legal problems etc)
4. Do you think her father’s drinking problem made it more or less likely Dani would drink? Why?
5. Dani wants to stop drinking but isn’t asking for help, why do you think that is?
6. What could Dani do to get help for her drinking? Are there deeper issues that need to be addressed?
7. Do you think that her friends know something's wrong? What could they do to help her? What would you do if you were Dani's friend?
8. How would Dani’s grandparents feel if they knew how much she was drinking?


** Alcoholism (alcohol dependence) is a negative pattern of alcohol use leading to a number of problems:
  • needing an increased amount of alcohol to feel drunk (tolerance)
  • physical discomfort that occur when the effects of alcohol wear off (withdrawal)
  • using more alcohol or drinking for a longer time than intended
  • an inability to discontinue use even after suffering serious consequences
** Approximately 11 million people suffer from alcohol dependence. 1 in 5 adult Americans lived with an alcoholic relative while growing up. In general, these children are at greater risk for having emotional problems than children whose parents are not alcoholics. Alcoholism runs in families, and children of alcoholics are 4x more likely than other children to become alcoholics themselves.

**Teenagers at risk for developing serious alcohol and drug problems include those:
  • with a family history of substance abuse
  • who are depressed
  • who have low self-esteem, and
  • who feel like they don't fit in or are out of the mainstream
** Alcohol is more toxic than many other drugs because it damages the entire body, not just the brain. It can cause a huge variety of health problems, including cancer, heart problems, liver disease, and death. Drinking also slows reaction times, so some activities -like driving, cycling and operating machinery – can be deadly while under the influence.

** Underage drinking raises the likelihood of other substance abuse and alcohol addiction. Underage drinkers are 22 times more likely to use marijuana, 50 times more likely to use cocaine, and five times more likely to become alcoholics. (SAMHSA, 2006)

** Human brains continue to develop until the mid-20s. Damage from underage drinking can be irreversible. Even short-term or moderate drinking impairs learning and memory far more in youth than adults. (American Medical Association, 2003)

** Youth are at greater risk of alcohol poisoning because their brains have not fully developed an internal "cut-off" switch that causes adults to fall sleep or pass out after consuming too much. Alcohol poisoning can cause difficulty breathing, unconsciousness and death. (

** Drinking alcohol during puberty may upset the critical hormonal balance needed for normal development of organs, muscles, bones, and the reproductive system. (National Institute of Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism, Alcohol Alert, 2006)

** Alcohol tricks the brain's pleasure-reward system by stimulating production of dopamine, thus creating unnatural feelings of pleasure from a chemical instead of real experiences. Because teen brains produce an abundance of dopamine compared to adults, they can rapidly go from liking, to craving, to needing alcohol, which can initiate a path toward alcoholism. (Journal of Substance Abuse, 1997)

** 40% of kids who start drinking before age 15 will become alcoholics at some point in their lives. (National Research Council, "Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility,” 2003)

** Alcohol use has also been linked to many social problems, including unwanted sexual activity, domestic violence, and violent crime. The loss of inhibitions caused by alcohol can lead to uncharacteristic aggressive or sexual behavior that can end a relationship or put you in prison.

** There are many legal issues to consider with teens and alcohol as well:
  1. It’s illegal to have ANY alcohol in your body if you’re under age 21.
  2. It’s a class 3 misdemeanor if you are under age 21 and solicit another person to purchase, sell, give, serve or furnish you with alcohol.
  3. It’s unlawful to drive or be in physical control of a motor vehicle or motorized watercraft if you’re under age 21 and there is ANY alcohol in your body.
  4. Using fake IDs when under age 21 in order to be sold, served, given, or furnished alcohol, or gain entrance into a licensed establishment is a class 1 misdemeanor.
  5. Possessing alcoholic beverages can result in misdemeanor charges and a heavy fine for anyone under 21. Penalties may include one or all of the these:
    1. Juvenile court hearing
    2. Driving privileges suspended for 180 days
    3. $500 fine
    4. Required counseling or education programs
    5. Community service or probation
What Mentors Can Do to Help:
Check out this website: Time to Act

** Be aware that this topic may hit really close to home with your mentee. If they have a parent or other close family that struggles with this, be careful not to offend your mentee. Their family comes first, even if they sometimes talk badly about them. If they were to say something against their family, it's one thing, but if you do, it could do serious damage to your relationship with your mentee. Be careful to not let your opinions cloud your conversation.

** Talk to your mentee about drinking and its potential consequences, and be honest about the positive or attractive aspects along with the negative. Share your own experiences with alcohol growing up and how that turned out for you.

** Listen to your mentee’s personal experiences with alcohol and try to be understanding of his/her opinion on the matter while sharing how you feel about it. Brainstorm with them the potential positive or negative outcomes of their/a friend’s/a family member’s drinking.

** Educate them about the legal penalties related to underage alcohol use for them and for their older friends or parents who may be facilitating it.

** Look for the signs of alcohol abuse, such as:
  • lying
  • making excuses
  • breaking curfew
  • staying in their room
  • becoming verbally or physically abusive toward others
  • having items in their possession that are connected to alcohol use (paraphernalia)
  • the smell of alcohol on their breath or body
  • mood swings
  • stealing
  • changes in friends
** If you are concerned your mentee has a problem talk to them about it. Let them know they are not alone and you just want to help them get better because you care about them. Do not guilt or shame them about their drinking as this will only make it worse. Try to get them to accept help and contact your case manager for information on treatment options and referrals.

** Go over possible outcomes for the addiction if treated versus not treated.

** These are some very informative website for teenagers who are involved with alcohol or have an alcoholic parent.
Drug Addiction Support
Knowing about Alcohol & Teens
Children of Alcoholics

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