Year-end brings about the season of gathering, celebration and warm-hearted holiday cheer. The holiday season is also a time when teens and underage youth are exposed to alcohol and events where drinking is underway, and driving under the influence is a heightened concern.
Nationally, 40 percent of highway deaths during the Thanksgiving holiday are alcohol related, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). That number decreases slightly during the Christmas holiday to 37 percent, and increases drastically on New Year’s Day to 57 percent. More than 300 people have died in alcohol-related crashes in North Dakota over the past five years. Historically, more fatalities occur during Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, and Labor Day than other holidays, and alcohol is a factor in about 40-50 percent of all fatal crashes in North Dakota annually, according to the North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT).
While we understand that driving under the influence is both dangerous and illegal with far-reaching consequences, we don’t always acknowledge the more insidious risks to youth: easy access and exposure to alcohol.
According to Director of Adolescent Medicine at the New York Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital, Dr. Karen Soren, the holiday season is the time when parents and children will no doubt be “thrust into social situations where one group generally consumes alcohol while the other watches.” This can give our kids mixed signals about what acceptable behavior looks like.
We value our time with family and loved ones, so it’s important to plan for the greater care and responsibility needed to keep everyone safe. Here are some tips:
Set a Positive Example
Set a positive example by always having a designated driver present, or acting as the designated driver yourself. If you host a holiday party at your home, give out taxi information to all party-goers so they are prepared with a safe ride home. Always have non-alcoholic drinks available for those who would prefer to drive home. Remember to set a limit and stick to it. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggest men have no more than two drinks a day, and women one.
Handle Stress in a Healthy Way
Teens often are dealing with the stress associated with the close of the semester, and may be more likely to be looking for a “release.” They may turn to alcohol in social situations to celebrate or decompress. Help them plan to deal with stress. One good way to decrease stress during the holiday season is to give back. Volunteer with your teen and participate in charitable activities to help bring things back into perspective for the entire family.
Discuss Expectations, Actions and Consequences
Talk to your child early and often about the harms of underage drinking. Make it clear that while you can’t monitor them 24/7 or control the choices they make, you expect that they will not drink alcohol. In our community, alcohol consumption is sometimes viewed as a “rite of passage” for youth, but alcohol consumption comes with an age restriction for a reason—delayed initiation of alcohol use decreases their risk of developing a substance use disorder later. It’s important to keep the conversation casual and open— ask them to discuss their feelings with you and encourage your teen to work with you to create a holiday party plan everyone can agree with.
Article written by Katie Beyer, Alcohol Prevention Coordinator at City County Health District.