From small towns to large cities across America, experimenting with drugs and alcohol is almost like a rite of passage for many young people. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, it is not uncommon for children under the age of 12 years old to explore drinking alcohol. Furthermore, the academy also claims that 14 years of age is the average age for trying marijuana for the first time.
For many parents, these statistics can be alarming. Drugs and alcohol can be damaging to a young person’s body as well as their mental and emotional welfare. Choices made while under the influence of alcohol and drugs, such as driving while intoxicated, can be devastating and life threatening.
Deaths Related to Teenage Drinking and Driving
Though it is true that many young people who use alcohol and drugs do not have serious consequences in their lives as a result of their exploration; unfortunately many, many teens do experience devastating outcomes as a result of underage drinking and drug use. As we all know, mind altering substances can affect one’s ability to make safe choices for him or herself, especially teens who choose to drink and drive. Sadly, drinking and driving can come with great costs.
Underage drinking and driving can be deadly. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that every year, over 10,000 lives in the United States are lost due to alcohol related car crashes. Essentially, this equates to one person dying every 48 minutes from drunk driving accidents and teenagers represent a significant portion of these deaths.
Teenagers at Risk for Drinking and Doing Drugs
While all teenagers are potentially at risk for drinking alcohol or drug abuse, some teens are more susceptible than others to becoming addicted to using drugs and alcohol. Any drug or alcohol consumption by someone underage, whether they become addicted or not, can lead to life altering and poor decisions.
Some circumstances that increase the risk of drugs and alcohol consumption and addiction are:
- Family history of substance abuse
- Access to alcohol or drugs
- Impressionable teens
- Low-Self esteem
Children who have a family history of substance abuse are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol themselves. In addition, children who are extremely impressionable consequently may use drugs and alcohol if their peers are using too. An adolescent who suffers from low self-esteem or depression is also at greater risk of abusing alcohol or drugs during their teenage years.
Children who have access to drugs or alcohol in the home are significantly more likely to experiment with using. Even if a teen is in a high risk category for drinking alcohol or using drugs there are preventative measures that can help reduce these risks as well as inform the child on what to do to help keep them and others safe if they do find themselves in a situation in which they are drinking or using drugs.
How Are Drugs and Alcohol Detected in A Driver?
Alcohol is fairly easy to define and measure once in the body using Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) test. In America, the legal limit of alcohol in an individual is 0.08% in every state. The following graph outlines the increased risk of having an accident based on BAC.
BAC can easily be determined by using a breathalyzer test. Commonly used by police officers, a breathalyzer can be administered during a DUI checkpoint or to someone who has been pulled over and suspected of being under the influence of alcohol.
While a breathalyzer test can determine if the driver has consumed alcohol, further tests would be needed to identify if an individual has drugs in their system. With the legalization of marijuana in the states of Colorado and California, a saliva swab has been developed to test impaired drivers.
Similar to the breathalyzer test, a saliva swab can be used to detect marijuana in a driver on location. Unlike the BAC produced by the breathalyzer test, the result for the saliva swab is often considered inaccurate because drugs can remain in a person’s system long after any impairments are gone. Other, more invasive tests such as urine, blood, and hair samples are also utilized to test for drugs such as marjuana, cocaine, and opiates. These samples must be submitted to a lab for analysis and can be costly and time consuming.
Drugs (legal or illegal) used for either recreational purposes or medicinal reasons can include a variety of substances. Cocaine, heroine, methamphetamines, opiates, LSD, Ecstasy, and crack are commonly recognized as illegal mind altering drugs. Marijuana, though legal in the state of Colorado, is also considered a drug and can be held against you if under the influence while driving.
Any drug that can cause impairment such as over-the-counter medicine like cough syrup or diet pills can also be used against you in a court of law if they affect public safety or ability to drive. Prescription medicines such as pain killers or even Ritalin are often used recreationally by teens to get high. In addition, vapors and inhalants like glue, solvents and aerosols are categorized as drugs. In an effort to prevent underage drinking or drugged driving, look for signs that your teenager may be drinking or using drugs.
Signs of Drug or Alcohol Use in Teenagers
Most adolescents experience an influx in hormones during their teenage years causing many to appear moody, emotional, extremely sensitive, or aloof. While some changes in appearance and attitude is completely normal in teens and even pre-teens, a closer analysis may help you determine if your child is using drugs or alcohol.
Look for evidence that your teen has been drinking, smoking marijuana or using other drugs:
- Smelling alcohol on their breath
- Aroma of marijuana on teen’s clothing
- Redness of eyes
- Lack of coordination
- Difficulty speaking, slurring words
- Blatant avoidance
Other signs that your teenager may be experimenting with drugs and alcohol may include:
- Alcohol missing from the home
- Finding alcohol or signs of alcohol such as empty bottles
- Finding marijuana or drug paraphernalia
- Decline in school performance or attendance
- Lack of interest in activities
- Change in appearance
- Altered mood and attitude
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) young people ages 12 to 20 years old
consume 11% of the total amount of alcohol drank in America. While teaching drug and alcohol prevention would be most parents preference, statistically, a significant number of teenagers use alcohol. Survey results show varying numbers from 19% to 78% of adolescents 12 to 20 have drank alcohol. Teaching abstinence from drugs and alcohol is great, but because we know that so many American youth participate in underage drinking, you can also encourage your child to do their best to make positive choices in the event they have been drinking or doing drugs.
Reducing Teen Drinking and Driving through Parental Guidance
Educating kids about making healthy choices is often easier said than done. Open communication is a very effective method to having a healthy relationship with your child that can help prevent underage drinking. If your child feels uncomfortable about opening up to you about their private teenage life, encourage them to talk to an adult they do trust. To some parents, preventing teens from drinking all together may seem like an impossible feet, thus teaching them what to do once they have been drinking could help save lives.
Advice such as calling a trusted adult for help if teens are drinking could save a young person’s life. Teaching young people to assign a designated driver is important philosophy that all people could abide by. Parents can host alcohol-free parties for teens to have fun without being inebriated.
Parents are more influential than they might think concerning their children’s lifestyles. Being a positive role model, such as refraining from drinking or drinking in moderation can exemplify what a healthy relationship with alcohol can look like for an adult. Eliminate or reduce opportunities for teens to be tempted to drink alcohol by keeping alcohol unavailable to them within the home.
Additional parenting strategies such as getting to know your teenager’s friends as well as their friend’s parents can be a useful method to preventing dangerous behavior like underage drinking. Establishing concise rules or expectations and enforcing them is another technique parents can utilize to help prevent underage drinking. Consequences should be implemented if rules are broken and praise or reward should be given for abiding by the expectations.
Parents can also share statistics, watch videos of teen testimonies, and make teens aware of the dangers of drinking and driving to remind young people of the seriousness associated underage drinking. Beyond worst case scenario of injury or death, teens should know that drinking and drug use, especially in cases of driving, can negatively affect their lives and future. Underage Drinking and Driving (UDD) can cause a social stigma toward the young person involved. Additional challenges when applying for college or jobs may arise as a result of drinking and driving charges or accusations.
Showing support when teens share truth about alcohol use is one tactic that could help build trust between parent and child. Even if they drink, acknowledge that calling for help is the right thing to do. They may still undergo consequences but none as serious as what might happen if they get behind the wheel of a car after drinking.
Legal Consequences for Teen Drinking and Driving
In the state of Colorado, teens can be arrested for having even 0.01% BAC. If the teenager has 0.08% BAC it is possible that they could be charged the same as an adult. First time teen offenders for UDD can face legal repercussions of fines, suspended license, points on driving license, community service, probation, and treatment programs. Second time offenses can be classified as a Class 2 Misdemeanor. Further consequences of jail time, as well as an increase in fines, treatment programs, probation, and community service for second time UDD.
Seek Legal Aid for Teen Drinking and Driving
In the event your teenager drinks and drives or gets into any trouble concerning drugs or alcohol seek legal assistance immediately. The Law Offices of M. Colin Bresee can guide you through the unwanted process of facing criminal charges. The skills of a competent legal team can give you and your child the support necessary to navigate this challenging time.