During this National Alcohol Awareness Month, anyone involved in addiction prevention and treatment will tell you that early intervention and education is key. That’s because we know that adolescents and teens who drink are in real danger of struggling with long-term dependence and its devastating repercussions. Data from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA) shows people who drink before age 15 are 5.6 times more likely to report having alcohol use disorder as an adult compared to those who wait until they are 21 to begin drinking.

We also know about the immense health and safety risks associated with underage drinking. Every year, approximately 5,000 kids under the age of 21 die as a result of drinking and nearly 200,000 visit the emergency room because of alcohol-related injuries. Moreover, early alcohol use interferes with brain development, and can potentially permanently affect decision-making, impulse control and cognitive skills.  

As I wrote in a blog last year, the good news is, parents play a powerful role in encouraging sobriety. By educating their child about alcohol misuse early and often, encouraging open communication and setting clear expectations and consequences, they can make a real difference.  

But parents aren’t typically around the moment when a young person is put on the spot to decide whether to use or refuse alcohol. Usually, this occurs in social situations, where adolescents and teens tend to follow their peers when they aren’t sure how to respond.

Therefore, arming your child with good refusal skills – that avoid awkwardness and don’t come off as judgmental – can be a very effective way to help them say “No.”

10 Ways to Refuse 

Urge your young person to practice these. When they state their case clearly and confidently they have the best chance of shutting down the discussion.

  1. Simply say “No.” Be firm and plain. Don’t sound unsure.

2. If, “No” is not enough, have an explanation ready: “I want to keep my head clear before driving home,” “I don’t like the taste of alcohol,” “I have a test/race/game in the morning,”

3. Use humor. Responding by joking about it is a good way to keep the mood light and divert attention to something else.

4. Blame the parents. “My mom would kill me.” “My dad said he would take my car away if I ever drink at a party.” Excuses like this can provide a good out. They don’t have to be factual.

5. Suggest an alternative activity. Often substance use is presented as an option because people are bored. Having a better plan at the ready can divert the group.

6. Ignore the suggestion. Pretend you didn’t hear it, and change the subject to something else. Act like you don’t think the idea was even worth discussing.

7. Repeat yourself, if necessary. Sometimes it takes more than once, on more than one occasion. You can still be polite: “Thanks, but no thanks.” Eventually, people get tired of asking.

8. Have an escape plan. If you don’t like where things are headed, you can take off. The blame-the-parent strategy may be helpful here. “My mom just texted. I have to go.”

9. If someone is insistent, respond with your own questions: “Why is it a big deal?” “What difference does it make to you if I don’t drink?”  This takes the attention of you and puts them on the spot.

10. The power of numbers. Bring friends with you who don’t want to drink either. Often, knowing that your friends will back you up can help you feel more comfortable about being assertive.

Having these types of ready responses at their fingertips is empowering for young people. It gives them control over creating boundaries, without making a situation uncomfortable. Although it is only one strategy for addressing the very complex problem of underage drinking, building good refusal skills can help adolescents and teens make the better choice.

If you are concerned about your child’s drinking, I’m here to help. Contact me at thrivetrainingconsulting@gmail.com

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