North Carolina does not allow for any exceptions to its underage drinking policy. That means that the first time your kids will be allowed to drink is when they’re 21. Even after it’s legal, they shouldn’t necessarily start drinking; CDC guidelines “do not recommend that individuals who do not drink alcohol start drinking for any reason.”
We’ve written previously about empowering your sons and daughters to say no to alcohol use. But your work doesn’t end once your kids are 18 and in college or the workforce. It’s important that you keep talking to your kids about substances like alcohol as they transition into adults. Here are some things they should know.
It’s still illegal while they’re in college.
Let’s assume your kid has a June birthday–right in the middle of the year. On a traditional four-year college path, they will start their freshman year of college at 18, sophomore at 19, and junior at 20. Only in their senior year will they be able to legally drink.
And yet, 80% of college students drink regularly, with 50% of those engaging in binge drinking. It is a ritual deeply embedded into the college culture. With this in mind, it’s so important that your children have good self-confidence and a strong plan for how to say no to alcohol.
It’s not a good coping mechanism.
Whether your kid is entering college or the workforce, they will undoubtedly be stressed from time to time. We all need to find our ways to cope and de-stress at the end of the day, and the unfortunate reality for many Americans is that they do this with a couple of beers. Alcohol does “work” to get the edge off.
But alcohol isn’t a good choice. It’s a negative rather than a positive coping mechanism.
- One can of beer has anywhere from 160 to 580 calories. That’s extra caloric content that you’re probably consuming while sitting–and it’s not a good idea to exercise while you’ve been drinking!
- The cost of frequent drinking adds up–to the tune of hundreds or thousands of dollars per month.
- Tolerance builds over time, meaning it will take more and more alcohol for you to get drunk. Remember that alcohol is a literal toxin, so the more you put into your body, the worse it is for you.
- It’s addictive. Highly. Binge drinking in college can lead to an unhealthy relationship with alcohol over time. That’s why one in twelve US adults suffers from alcohol dependence or abuse.
- Alcohol interferes with certain medications, particularly pain medication and antidepressants.
- And of course, alcohol lowers your inhibitions, making you more prone to injure yourself or get yourself into dangerous situations.
(By the way–weed isn’t a good coping mechanism, either, for many of the reasons listed above. Even if it were legal in North Carolina, which it isn’t, its classification as a schedule I drug means that we don’t have enough information to even know what it does to the body. Most claims about its relaxing or pain-relieving effects just don’t have the science to support them yet.)
It’s perfectly OK to choose not to drink. Ever.
It’s very difficult in our alcohol-centric world to choose to avoid drinking, but that doesn’t make it impossible. Alcohol is “effective” only because it is a toxin. It is literally a poison that we drink for fun! And if that’s not something that makes sense to you or your new-adult children, that is perfectly acceptable.
There are many ways to have fun without alcohol, and while they’re not the majority, there are plenty of sober people that you can hang out with. You can still invite friends over to play cards or a tabletop game (I promise Cards Against Humanity is still fun when you’re sober). You could also go in or out to watch a movie or show, go on a drive and talk about something real, go hiking or fishing, go on walks, join a crafting or reading group, go to a comedy show or an arcade or a concert, volunteer… the list is as endless as your imagination.
If you’re going to drink, know your limits.
The CDC has put out guidelines about safe drinking. If you do intend to drink once it is legal, keep this information in mind:
- One drink is equivalent to one 1.5 oz shot of 80 proof liquor, 12 ounces of 5% beer, or 5 ounces of 12% wine.
- Moderate drinking for women includes up to one drink per day. For men, this is 2 drinks per day.
- Binge drinking includes 4 or more drinks in a single session (about 2 hours) for women, and 5 or more for men.
- Heavy drinking includes 8+ drinks per week for women, or 15+ drinks for men.
- If your drinking starts to negatively affect your relationships, school, job, or other social activities, you may have a problem, and it’s time to talk to someone.
You should also make sure that your child has a blood alcohol level sheet so that they know when it’s OK for them or their friends to drive after drinking, and when they need to wait.
There’s still a pretty big taboo on talking about substances between adults. We can all invite each other out for drinks, but it’s much harder to have the conversation, “I think I’m drinking too much and I’m concerned about it.”
It’s so important for you to break that taboo with your adult children. It’s OK to ask them if they’re drinking at parties, and you should let them know that it’s OK to talk about this with you–to vent their frustrations at not being able to drink when everyone around them is, their struggles with having too much or drinking too often, and the general alcohol culture around them. By making yourself a support system for your kids, you’ll help them transition into adults that can enjoy alcohol (if they want to) in a healthy, socially responsible way.