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Teen stress can lead to binge drinking

When we long for the carefree days of our teen years, we conveniently forget how stressful those years could be. Studying, extracurricular activities and part-time jobs can leave teens more stressed-out than parents may realize. There are also the social stresses of teen life. With their phones and laptops always within reach, they can't turn off distractions like we used to do by locking ourselves in our bedrooms.

Studies have shown that stress can lead to binge drinking among adolescents. As one health educator says, "Stress not only may fuel adolescent binge drinking, but heavy drinking during these pivotal years impacts how the brain handles stress in the future." She adds, "Eventually the brain and body becomes unable to distinguish between a small stressor and something life threatening….thus increasing the reactive binge behavior."

We can help our kids handle stress in a healthy manner so that they are less likely to engage in destructive behaviors like binge drinking. Of course, we have to be able to recognize the signs, such as anger, eating issues, irritability and sleep problems.

The American Psychological Association (APA) has a number of recommendations for parents who want to help their kids cope with stress:

  1. Model healthy behavior and ways of dealing with stress. If your kids see you work off stress at the end of the day by going to the gym, doing yoga or shooting hoops in the driveway rather than pouring yourself a glass (or two) of wine, they'll be more likely to turn to physical activity to deal with their own stress.
  2. Have family rituals. Things as simple as eating meals together or having a weekly family movie night can help parents stay in touch with how their kids are feeling.
  3. Don't be afraid to get professional help for your child. Trained psychologists can often get kids to open up in a way they won't to their parents and get at the source of their problems.

Binge drinking doesn't necessarily subside in the summer. With more free time and less supervision, many kids engage in more excessive drinking this time of year. Besides the obvious health and safety risks, this also puts them in danger of being arrested for underage drinking or DUI. A juvenile conviction can impact a child's chances of getting into college, receiving financial aid and getting a job. An arrest needs to be taken seriously.

Source: WRAL, "Underage drinking: Helping teens cope with stress can reduce binge drinking," accessed May 15, 2018

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