Parents and Teens / Questions
Excerpts from the PAD Parent and Community Handbook
5th edition Revised July 2004
So many teenagers have begun to drink at parties by the middle of high school. How can I prevent my teen from joining in?
You can't necessarily "prevent" your teen from drinking or other activities! Teens make these decisions when their parents aren't around. We do know that some underage drinking, especially in the older teenage years, is common. Parents can give a clear message to their teenagers about drinking ("I don't want you to drink at this stage of your life because it puts your personal safety at risk") and have a surprising amount of influence. Discuss with your teens what choices they have when they find themselves in a situation where some of their friends may be drinking. If you find that your teens are drinking at parties, you may want to focus on ways that they can increase their safety and responsible decision-making in these situations.
What are the dangers of teenage drinking, as long as my teen doesn't drink and drive?
There are many dangers associated with drinking during the teenage years. Even with just a few drinks, alcohol begins to affect judgment. Drinkers then may make decisions that put their own and others' health and safety at risk. Teenagers themselves readily admit that when they drink they often behave in ways they later regret. This can range from "acting stupid" to saying something rude to a friend or getting involved sexually. Fights, damage to property, injuries, unwanted pregnancy, S.T.D's (sexually transmitted diseases), trying other drugs and riding with an impaired driver are all possible harmful outcomes of teenage drinking. Even young drivers who have not been drinking themselves (as "the designated driver"), can be affected by having drunk passengers. Their ability to drive safely can be seriously challenged.
Sometimes party drinking takes the form of "chugging" or "funnelling" -- power drinking or contests where young people drink as much as they can as quickly as they can. This is particularly risky, because drinking in this manner can cause severe intoxication ("alcohol poisoning") leading to stoppage of breathing and even death. Death can also occur because a person becomes unconscious and chokes on his or her own vomit. Parents need to discuss with their teens about calling for emergency assistance when they find someone in this situation.
Isn't it better if teenagers are allowed to drink in their own home, so they don't feel it's something to "get away with"?
Many parents do feel that if alcohol is not made to be the "forbidden fruit", it will lose some of its attraction for a teenager. In fact, most young people are introduced to drinking in their own homes. However, there is a clear difference between the underage (but legal) drinking in a family situation (such as at times of celebration or on a religious holiday) and the kind of drinking that underage teenagers do with their friends. This kind of party drinking tends to be unrestrained and is in fact, illegal. Having a parent present in the home when there is a teenage drinking party does not prevent the harmful or legal consequences of underage drinking. If a party is held at your home, you can be held legally responsible for whatever happens at that party. You are responsible even if you are not there or if you did not know about it or you did not provide the alcohol.
Is the marijuana available today different than the marijuana of the 60's and 70's?
The strength of marijuana has increased. Today different varieties of marijuana are being grown across North America, much of it indoors, or "hydroponically". Using up-to-date growing techniques, marijuana growers are able to cross-cultivate different varieties to create new and unique types of marijuana. This marijuana has a consistently higher level of THC, the "psychoactive" component of marijuana.
Is marijuana less harmful than tobacco or alcohol?
The harmful effects of tobacco use and alcohol abuse on individuals and society are well known. For example, we know that tobacco is the leading cause of preventable deaths in Canada. And we are aware that domestic violence and many traffic injuries and deaths are closely linked to alcohol abuse. Marijuana is not in these two categories.
Marijuana does share some harmful health effects in common with tobacco, such as the cancer-causing agents and damage to the breathing system. Marijuana has similar harmful effects as alcohol, such as impaired judgment, coordination and concentration. Marijuana use also poses risks to work place and traffic safety.
Evidence is beginning to show that long-term marijuana use poses a risk for memory and selective attention that nicotine or moderate daily drinking is not associated with.
With the laws concerning marijuana going through changes, it seems that there may be very few legal consequences if a teenager is caught with marijuana. What impact can a parent have in this situation?
It is true that Canadian laws concerning cannabis possession are undergoing review and change. If possession of smaller amounts of marijuana is "decriminalized", it means that it is removed from the scope of the criminal courts. However, if a teen is caught with marijuana, a fine will be levied and the parents will be informed. You will have to make your concerns about your teen's health and safety and your family standards clear to your teen and work through the consequences and issues as a family.
What is "harm reduction" and is this an approach I should take with my child?
Harm reduction is the approach that our first priority should be to try to reduce the problems and harms that can happen when a person is using drugs. Examples of this approach would be giving heroin addicts clean needles to decrease their risks of contacting HIV/AIDS or hepatitis and advising those who attend "raves" or clubs and use ecstasy to keep drinking water to avoid becoming dehydrated.
Many parents who advise their children against smoking, drinking and use of any drug, will add, as their bottom line, that if their teens do happen to drink or use drugs, they can call their parents to ensure they have a safe way home.
In another example of harm reduction, parents who do not want their children to use alcohol can still warn their teens to never leave their drink (alcoholic or non-alcoholic) unattended in a social setting or take a drink from anyone other than someone they know and trust or a restaurant or bar server, in order to prevent a drug from being slipped into their drink. Particularly as teens grow older and parents realize that they have begun to drink, parents can caution them to increase their personal safety by having a sober 'buddy' around and drinking less and on fewer occasions.
Parents can also make sure that their teenage children have all the facts about tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs so that when their teens do make their own choices about drug use, they will take precautions to decrease the problems that smoking, drinking or drug use can bring. In giving these "harm reduction" messages parents can continue to emphasize to their children that the most certain way to protect their personal safety is to not drink or use any drugs at all.
Wouldn't you rather I drink than take drugs?
I would rather you did not use any drug, including alcohol. Alcohol is a drug. Drinking can lead to serious problems, especially at this time in your life. If you choose to drink when you are older, I hope you will do so responsibly.
What's the big deal, Mom! I only drink beer.
Some people think that beer is not as harmful as other forms of alcohol. But one beer has the same amount of alcohol in it as a drink of liquor or a glass of wine. It's the amount you drink that affects you. You can definitely get drunk on beer.
What's the difference if I start to drink now or I wait until I'm 19 - it's only a few years difference?
The younger you start, the more inexperienced you are in handling the kinds of problems which often come up when kids get together and there is drinking. Situations you hadn't planned for can easily get out of hand. During these times, you need to rely on your own good sense to take care of yourself and maybe even others. If you're drinking, you just can't think through problems the way you can when you are sober.
I only drink on weekends so what's the problem?
Many people think that they won't have problems with alcohol because they only drink on weekends. But many young people who limit their drinking to the weekend tend to "binge" or drink a lot at that time. There are a lot of problems associated with binge drinking, such as alcohol poisoning, fights, damage to property and regrets about sex. I just need to watch the news or read the paper and I see the number of drivers and passengers killed or seriously injured by drinking drivers on weekends. I don't want these problems to happen to you. I care about you and I want you to be safe.
I don't take drugs, I just smoke cigarettes.
I'm concerned about smoking as well as other drugs. Cigarettes are very addictive and most people who smoke wish they hadn't started. Tobacco is the number one cause of preventable deaths in North America. I care about your health now and in the future.
You smoke, so why shouldn't I?
I don't want
to smoke, but I made the mistake of trying cigarettes when
I was young. I now realize that tobacco is one of the most
addictive drugs. The easiest way to quit is not to start.
Everyone uses marijuana. I don't see why I can't use it too.
Actually that's not true. Most young people or adults do not use marijuana or other illegal drugs. In fact, many teens who try marijuana out of curiosity find that they don't like the effects and don't continue using it. Today's stronger forms of marijuana can cause unpleasant sensations. If most of the young people you know use marijuana, you may need to learn what it is like to make a decision that is different from your friends. Your friends should respect your decision. And you may be surprised that one or two others might follow your example.
You drink, so why can't I use marijuana?
As an adult I have chosen to drink in a way that is safe and responsible for me and the people I care about. I don't feel you can use marijuana in a way that is absolutely safe and healthy. Marijuana affects short-term memory, judgment, co-ordination and driving skills. Furthermore, the smoke from one joint contains much more "tar" than a regular cigarette, so with regular use, the risk of lung diseases increases. Because it is a street drug, you can't be sure exactly what is contained in a joint or how powerful the drug might be.
Marijuana is a natural substance so it can't be that harmful.
Marijuana, like many drugs, does originally come from plants growing in nature. But we know that plants growing wild can be dangerous; some can be so poisonous they are deadly. Most drugs which come from plants are changed by a chemical process in some way (like cocaine or heroin). The marijuana you get today has been carefully grown in grow operations using specific techniques to produce exactly what the grower wants and to make the biggest profit for the grower. Not much is left to chance! Growers use pesticides and other chemicals to encourage plant growth and prevent insects and diseases which will damage their crops, and these can be harmful to the user.
Doctors give marijuana to people who are sick, so that proves that it's not unhealthy.
It's true that some people who are seriously ill, for example with AIDs or multiple sclerosis or those who are undergoing cancer treatment find that using marijuana helps their symptoms. Some doctors will recommend marijuana to these patients. The majority of doctors recommend other medicines to control these symptoms because they are concerned about the health risks associated with smoking marijuana and because the benefits of using marijuana in these situations have not undergone strict clinical testing.
Many drugs, whether originally from a plant or produced only in labs, can have some positive helpful benefits in the right situations. Morphine is a good example of this. But that does not mean these drugs are meant to be used for personal recreation.
I don't use marijuana often-just sometimes on weekends with my friends. You know I don't have problems. Why are you worried?
I have a number of concerns about your marijuana use, even if it is part time. Each time you use marijuana you don't know whether it has had other drugs or poisons added to it or how strong it is. And many young people don't worry about driving a car after using marijuana even though it affects their ability to judge distances and slows reaction time. So I worry that you will drive or ride with someone who is impaired.
My last concern is that it's easy for a teen to begin to use more often and in more situations. And that's when it can begin to interfere with your school work and relationships. But by that time it's hard to recognize that these problems are linked to your use of marijuana. And at that point it will be much harder to stop.