Guest Blog Post by Katie Mitchell with http://www.sexedva.org
A common type of peer pressure teens face is the pressure to drink alcohol. It’s easily accessible and a popular rite of passage, glamorized in the media and in social circles alike. However, we know that alcohol use is unsafe for teens and the adolescent brain. And as teens venture into the world of romance, dating, and parties, alcohol can become an ever bigger threat to health and safety. The longer young people can delay using alcohol, the less likely they are to develop problems with alcohol.
Facts about teen drinking
Even though the dangers of adolescent alcohol use have been vigorously researched, alcohol is used by more young people than tobacco or illicit drugs. Alcohol-related car crashes continue to be a major cause of death among young people, and alcohol use is linked with other accidental teen deaths and suicide. Young people who drink are more likely than others to be victims of violent crime and more likely to have problems with school work and school conduct. According to a recent national survey, 16 percent of eighth graders reported drinking alcohol within the past month and 32 percent within the last year. Teens who use alcohol are more likely to be sexually active at earlier ages, to have sex more often, and to have unprotected sex more than teens who do not drink.
Drinking and consent
Under Virginia law, non-consensual sex of any kind is illegal. Lack of consent can occur through physical force, threats, intimidation, age, physical disability, or impaired mental capacity. People who are intoxicated have impaired mental capacity. Therefore, even if the law does not specifically state that having sex with someone who’s been drinking is illegal, it strongly implies that having sex with someone who is mentally incapacitated by drugs or alcohol, regardless of age, is a sex crime. A person who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs cannot legally give consent. In the eyes of the law, it’s impossible for a drunk or high person to think and communicate clearly. They may not be able to clearly say what they want. They may forget to wear a condom, use a condom incorrectly, or put their and their partner’s health at risk in some other way.
Talking to your teen about drinking
It’s important to talk to your kids about “party culture,” about drinking and hooking up at parties. Not only is it a crime (underage drinking and nonconsensual sex), but research shows that people who drink or use drugs before sex are less likely to use protection against pregnancy or STIs.
Ask your teen what they know about alcohol and what they think about teen drinking. Listen carefully without interrupting. Hearing what they have to say will help you shape the conversation in a helpful way.
Tell your teen how you feel about underage drinking. Talk to them about how to handle a party situation that has gotten out of hand. Make sure they know how to call for help and get a ride home.
Share the truth about alcohol with your teen. Here are some important facts:
- Alcohol is a powerful drug that slows down the body and mind, affects coordination and vision, slows reaction time, and prevents clear thinking and judgment.
- Beer and wine are not “safer” than liquor. A 12-ounce can of beer (about 5 percent alcohol), a 5-ounce glass of wine (about 12 percent alcohol), and 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor (40 percent alcohol) all contain the same amount of alcohol and have the same effects on the body and mind.
- It takes hours for a single drink to leave a person’s system. Nothing can speed up this process, including drinking coffee, taking a cold shower, or “walking it off.”
- Alcohol makes it hard for people to assess how seriously alcohol has affected them.
- The combination of alcohol and sex is dangerous and illegal.
To learn more about talking to your child about alcohol, check out this helpful resource.
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This blog post was contributed by Katie Mitchell of SexEdVA, a division of James Madison University working to support sexual health education, family life programming, and positive youth development across Virginia. To inquire about partnering with them or to find out more, visit http://www.sexedva.org or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This publication was made possible by Grant Number TP1AH000215 from the HHS Office of Population Affairs. Contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Department of Health and Human Services or the Office of Population Affairs.