This week, I had the incredible opportunity to speak to The Miss Rancho Bernardo Scholarship Pageant contestants about tips on presentation, public speaking, and most importantly their public persona as school leaders and role models when it comes to alcohol use.
The pearls of underage drinking are immense and delaying the decision to start drinking has a profound beneficial impact on the developing brain. Research shows that children who start using alcohol before the age of 15 are six times more likely to become alcohol dependent than adults who begin drinking at the legal age of 21. Underage drinking leads to serious negative consequences such as poor school performance, lack of impulse control, depression, anxiety, and an increased risk of suicide and homicide1.
To grasp the impact alcohol has on an adolescent brain even more, I shared an MRI brain scan highlighting the physical changes to many areas of the brain, particularly areas responsible for recall, learning and memory2. Alcohol impairs the ability to make good decisions, slows reaction time, impairs motor coordination, and hampers learning. While recovery of brain function is possible after abstinence, complete recovery may be harder and is unknown.
As role models in their schools and community, it’s important to discuss the topic of peer pressure around alcohol. Peer pressure can make us cave despite our best intentions (even as adults!). We had an interactive discussion around the table on how they would handle various situations where alcohol is offered and even highly encouraged as a fun, cool thing to do. Strategies empowering and equipping themselves ahead of time, having a detailed plan for a way out, and rehearsing key phrases to use when they feel pressured are all critical to success. It’s not just knowing the right thing to do, it’s also putting it into action.
I encourage all parents to have an open discussion with their children about the risks and harms associated with the early use of alcohol and develop a plan should your child need your help to get out of awkward situations. Having a code word when they call or text you can be an important strategy for their comfort and safety.
I am grateful for this opportunity to educate and empower these young ladies about the dangers of alcohol use and the damaging effects it has on a growing adolescent brain. This is a message all our children need to hear. It’s cool to be alcohol-free.