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Alcohol causes host of problems for youth; holidays no time for loved ones to 'bend rules'

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The holidays can be a precarious time when it comes to adolescents drinking alcohol. Parents and care givers are extra busy preparing for family gatherings and guests. Alcoholic beverages may be more available in the home for use in cooking, punches, warm beverages and entertaining. Alcohol manufacturers are in full swing during the holiday season to advertise festively packaged, often sweet-tasting concoctions that appeal to youth.

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"Adults, including visitors to the home such as uncles, grandparents and older cousins, may bend youth alcohol prohibitions during the holiday season as a treat or gesture of affection," said Ruth Gassman, director of the Indiana Prevention Resource Center in Indiana University's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. "Perhaps well meaning, giving alcohol to youth or making it readily available to them is a recipe fraught with risk."

Drinking alcohol increases adolescents' chances of illness and injury, and reduces their ability to regulate sleep, mood, impulse control and communication. Alcohol may have a dangerous interaction with many common medications taken by youth such as analgesics and cold/flu medicines.

"Furthermore, alcohol consumption may become habit forming and lead to addiction," Gassman said.

She said the following actions can help parents and care givers prevent adolescents from consuming alcohol during the holidays.

  • Have available and offer alcohol-free holiday drinks for all age groups in your home.
  • Be mindful of the drinking behaviors you are modeling for youth. Are you spiking your coffee, tea, soda, fruit juice with alcohol? Children may perceive this as harmless and imitate what you do.
  • Keep track of where your children are and what they are doing. Although they may be in the bedroom or basement, be sure they are not imbibing behind a closed door.
  • Ask your relatives to respect your family rule to not provide youth with alcohol beverages.
  • Don't give the gift of alcohol; instead give mittens or a cap. Alcohol may make you feel warm in a cold holiday climate, but it actually may contribute to hypothermia.

To read more articles from the Department of Applied Health Science, visit