By Vanessa Rasmussen, © 2004, All rights reserved.

In a recent study, more than 54% of the children surveyed had tried alcohol by the time they reached eighth grade. Experts suggest that parents play the most important role in determining how children handle the temptation to drink alcohol. The average age when youth first try alcohol is 11 years for boys and 13 years for girls. More than 40% of individuals who start drinking before the age of 15 will develop alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence at some point in their lives.

In order to help prevent alcohol abuse in children, parents should begin discussing alcohol use with their children at an early age and continue openly communicating throughout their children's development. Don't assume that since you've discussed the topic once, your job's done. Return to the topic each time you are able to offer your child a new insight.

When you discuss the topic, do it seriously. Make it clear that you think it is important that the child is educated on the topic of substance abuse. Use it as a bonding experience and a chance to learn the thoughts and feelings of your child. Avoid needlessly authoritarian approaches, as well as timid and embarrassed ones.

Teach your child to ask questions and to say no. The following are some of the suggestions:

  • if an unknown substance is offered, teach your child to refuse it.
  • ask questions when anyone tries to convince you into trying something 'new'. Say that you will check with your mom or dad and get back.
  • come up with alternative answers when your friend offers you to come for some drinks. Say you are watching a movie that night or you have other plans or you don't want to suffer from a hangover.
  • also, educate your child about the alternatives that he/she has. That he/she can have fun and a good time even though there is no drinking involved.
  • remind your child that he/she can leave the environment (a party, a friend's place, etc.) if he/she don't feel comfortable there. Also, make sure that you are easily available for picking them up from that place or your child has enough money for the transportation.
  • teach your children never to accept rides from those individuals who have been drinking.
  • explain to your child the consequences of alcohol abuse using real life experiences. Do not misrepresent the truth, as when they do find out the facts, they will not believe you.
  • teach your children that although life can sometimes be upsetting or stressful, drinking alcohol to escape difficult times can make a bad situation much worse.

The most common and effective way for an individual to fight his or her addictive behavior is through a self-help support group, along with advice and support from a health care professional. Treatment should also involve family members as family history may play a role in the origins of the problem and successful treatment cannot take place in isolation.

Copyright 2001, 2004. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article in whole or in part without written or verbal permission is strictly prohibited. For information about reprinting this article, contact the copyright owner: Vanessa Rasmussen, Ph.D, Starting a Day Care Center,