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How much you drink could have an influence on how your teen drinks, study shows

By Madeline Holcombe, CNN

(CNN) — If you want to keep your kids from drinking, start by looking at your own consumption.

That’s because adolescents whose parents drank regularly or binge drank were four times more likely to drink themselves, according to a study published September 14 in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Binge drinking is defined as at least four drinks for women and five drinks for men on one occasion, the study said.

“The study really provides more evidence that binge drinking is not only harmful to the person drinking alcohol, but also to others around them by increasing the risk of their teens drinking the alcohol,” said senior study author Dr. Marissa Esser, who leads the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s alcohol program.

Families should care about teens drinking alcohol because it can cause problems with their health and brain development and because the age at which a person starts drinking is tied to their risk of addiction, said Dr. Danielle Dick, director of the Rutgers Addiction Research Center in Piscataway, New Jersey. She was not involved in the study.

It isn’t surprising to see a connection between parent and teen drinking, but it is a crucial reminder, said Dick, who is also a professor of psychiatry at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

“For me, that’s the most important piece to come out of this: another reminder for parents of the role that we can play in influencing our kids’ substance use,” she added.

The reason for that connection could be tied to multiple things like modeling, alcohol accessibility in the home or a parent’s permissiveness around drinking, said Dr. Scott Hadland, chief of adolescent and young adult medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children and Harvard Medical School in Boston. He was not involved in the study.

But there is also a strong genetic component that may be at play, Dick said.

“It is also the case that we know that substance use and substance use problems are strongly genetically influenced,” Dick said. “About 50% of the differences between how much kids drink — especially as they move through adolescence into young adulthood — is due to differences in their genes.”

Teens aren’t necessarily going to drink anyway

The age at which kids start drinking should be put off as long as possible, Dick said.

Data has shown that the younger a teen starts drinking, the greater their chances of developing problem drinking or an addiction, she added.

Over 45% of kids who started drinking at age 13 or younger develop alcohol problems, Dick said. “Whereas among kids who delayed till age 21, less than 10% of them go on to develop an alcohol use disorder.”

Families should strengthen their messaging to their teens that drinking isn’t as safe for adolescents as it is for adults and that they don’t want their kids drinking, Hadland said.

However, it’s important to come from a communicative — not punitive — place, because teens who are experimenting with alcohol should feel safe coming to talk to their parents or guardians about it, he added.

Teens are going to drink, so we might as well teach them how to do it safely, right?

Actually, the data has shown that approach is not such a good plan, Dick said.

“We actually know that (teens who drink at home) are more likely to use with their friends in irresponsible and risky ways,” she said. And it’s important not to normalize something that is becoming less normal for teens, she said.

Binge drinking rates may be high for adults, but teen drinking rates have been declining for the past few decades, she said.

“Adolescents are making healthier choices than many of us did when we were that age,” Dick added.

How you can cut down

Even if you don’t have a problem with alcohol, cutting back may be hard.

Maybe it’s difficult because you have a ritual of settling down after a long day with a glass of wine or because it feels strange to be at a party with friends and not have a cocktail in hand, said journalist Rosamund Dean, author of “Mindful Drinking: How Cutting Down Can Change Your Life.”

However, if you are looking to reduce your drinking, there are effective ways to do it, she said.

A good place to start is by keeping track of how many days a week you drink and how much you consume, Dick said.

Then, Dean recommends communicating with your loved ones about your goals so they don’t prod you to have a drink at the next get-together.

She found that alcohol-free days were important in her journey because she said it’s much easier to not drink at all then to curb it.

Some people try to go alcohol-free for short periods in challenges like Sober October to reevaluate their relationship with alcohol.

Pretty quickly, Dean learned that she could still have a night out, celebrate, go on trips and toast at weddings without relying on an alcoholic beverage, she said.

And for those who have drinking as part of their daily routine, try a replacement — whether it’s an entirely different activity or just making yourself a nonalcoholic drink.

“I think it’s all about having nice glassware and a slice of lemon and really making a thing of it,” she said. “You can kind of create that same feeling around an alcohol-free drink, and then you’ll realize it’s not actually the alcohol that felt so good in that moment.”

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