The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports in “Alcohol Use Among Girls” that depression and substance abuse often occur together. It is often not clear which comes first: depression leading to use of alcohol or drugs to alleviate the symptoms, or use of drugs and alcohol leading to depression. Recent studies conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found that approximately 45 percent of high school girls drink alcohol, compared with 49 percent of boys; girls use prescription drugs more than boys do; and the number of girls who start drinking between the ages of 10 and 14 has risen from 7 percent in the 1960s to 30 percent in the 1990s. Friends and peer pressure also particularly influence girls when it comes to drinking and taking drugs. They want to fit in, even if doing so is dangerous.

dealing with addiction

It’s hard for today’s teens to escape the alcohol industry’s media bombardment and to resist peer pressure to drink. While some parents experience relief that their teen is “only” drinking, rather than taking drugs, they may not recognize the fact that alcohol is a drug. Teens use alcohol more frequently and heavily than all other illicit drugs combined, according to a 2000 National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism publication, Make a Difference: Talk to Your Child About Alcohol. Alcohol kills 6.5 times more teens than all other illicit drugs combined, and this does not take into consideration the countless life-altering consequences of underage drinking that do not result in death. According to the “National Household Survey on Drug Abuse Main Findings 1997,” girls participate in binge drinking more frequently than in the past, having caught up with boys. We don’t think encouraging more independent behavior for girls means taking on the dangerous, risky behaviors previously dominated by boys.

According to “A Parent’s Guide on Teenagers and Drinking,” 11 million underage young people drink each year, and 12 is the average age when a child takes his or her first drink. Judy, the mother of Jacob, said, “At Jake’s 12th birthday party I had a rude awakening. About eight boys and girls sat around my kitchen table pretending to chug down beer, using salad dressing. I had only been out of the kitchen for 15 minutes when I realized that they were playing drinking games.” Again, this is not so surprising in light of the statistic that 30 percent of kids admit to binge drinking in high school.

It’s important that you talk to your daughter about the dangers of combining drinking and sex. The most dangerous thing for a girl to do is to drink with a boy she doesn’t know well. Blair, an 18-year old college freshman, told us that she thinks she was date raped after a fraternity party. She said, “How horrible is it to not even know if I was violated? It haunts me, and I’m not sure what to do. I wasn’t conscious enough to trust what I really think went on. I want to confront him, but I’m not sure exactly what happened. I remember passing out while lying on this boy’s bed. We were messing around, and I woke up a few hours later half-dressed. I don’t know whether to be humiliated or outraged.” Blair’s experience is too familiar. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence states that two-thirds of sexual assaults against female teens and college students take place when they and/or others are drinking.

how to quit drinking

Alcohol can cause a group situation to get particularly out of hand. In 2003, teenage girls pounded each other during a touch football game that degenerated into a muddy brawl. Five girls were injured in a violent free-for-all that involved 100 students. After this hazing incident at Northbrook High School in Illinois, Kathleen Parker reported in “What Are Little Girls Made Of ? How About Pig Guts and Beer?”: “Girls will be girls. Give them a couple of kegs, some pig intestines, and a bucket of human feces and, well, stuff happens. . . . But rules have a funny way of getting broken, especially when alcohol is present and parents are missing. The powder puff ritual was held in a ‘secret’ place and was lubricated with a couple of kegs of beer that police say may have been procured by parents. One parent also may have helped collect the feces, according to early reports.” The parents who provided the alcohol for this daytime activity were charged with furnishing alcohol to minors.

Teenagers push the limits. It is normal for them to experiment and take risks to grow up and develop. According to Dr. Michael Riera
in his appearance on “Oprah” on March 26, 2003, “You can say anything you want, if your kid is going to have any kind of social life . . . they are going to experiment and be in social situations that involve underage drinking.”

You are still responsible for setting limits, however. We know teens fight these limits, but they do need and even want them. Limits help to contain them while they are experimenting and still developing. Limits communicate to your daughter that, while you may act like a friend, you are still very much a parent. One parent talked about participating in a parent peer group while her daughter was in high school. Issues such as curfews, driving, and drinking were discussed. Two of the parents in the group, Sara and Rob, looked at the rest of the group with condescension. They didn’t understand what the concern was because they thought that discussing these issues meant the others couldn’t control their own children. Sara said, “I don’t know what your problems are, but my son and daughter are in every Friday and Saturday night before midnight.”

how to quit drugs

The rest of the group hid their disbelief at the naiveté of these parents. They knew that virtually every Friday night those kids were sneaking out of the house, and one father in the group had caught their daughter smoking pot in his kitchen. One of the parents in the group gently told Sara and Rob about the reality of their children’s behavior. They discussed together how they could communicate better with their own kids and gave them a sense of reality, along with what their expectations should be.

Sara and Rob decided to extend their kids’ curfew with the understanding that they were going to create an environment for more honest and open communication. They also reiterated their messages and values to their children regarding alcohol and other drugs. Many teenagers we spoke with said their parents often didn’t set clear rules about alcohol and other drugs. If parents don’t condemn drinking, even when they know it’s going on, they force kids to set their own limits.

no more drugs

The teenagers with whom we spoke also said they aren’t disciplined routinely when they break the rules. It’s tough to sort through all the mixed messages that society promotes about alcohol, which is why your child deserves a clear, consistent message from you and consequences when rules are broken, such as taking away the car keys or grounding them. Consequences that match the offense and are given in real time are most effective.