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Priscilla Behnke.

By Priscilla Behnke

With the Tide Pod challenge slowly losing steam, it’s important to remember the No. 1 ingested poison by teens in Maricopa is alcohol.

According to the latest Arizona Youth Survey (2016), roughly 860 teens consumed alcohol last month. It is more students than are enrolled at Maricopa Elementary School. The survey also told us of those who drank, 68 binge-drank (five or more drinks in one setting); 300 got their alcohol at a party and 200 directly by their parents. Thirty-five reported driving while drunk. And 138 reported riding in a car with a drunk driver.

We do not know if it is a friend or parent who was drunk while driving. We do know they thought a drunk driver was an acceptable mode of transportation.

Alcohol abuse by teens is not a right of passage. It is a risk with possible lifelong consequences. Seventy-five percent of alcoholics began drinking before age 15. The AYS showed 14 was the average age of first use by Maricopa teens. Even scarier is aggregated data show eighth graders are starting at 11.

If alcohol prevention isn’t taken seriously by those guiding this generation, they won’t be burning their mouths on Tide Pods; they will be sinking their potential down a glass of vodka or becoming another statistic on the 347.

Parents should not be passive bystanders as children aimlessly wander through adolescence. It is a common misconception that underage drinking is OK if done with the parent. Research shows that kids who drink with their parents will drink without their parents. But teens whose parents talk with them about their disapproval of underage drinking are less likely to drink.

Here are some tips to help you lead the fight for prevention in your home:

  1. Know the facts and share them with your child. Misinformation is bombarding your child daily. Share early and share often.
  2. Set firm rules around drugs and alcohol in the home, let them know you expect them to abstain and, if they don’t, what the consequences will be. Then follow through.
  3. Monitor your alcohol and lock it up if you have too.

If you’re wondering if your teen is already using, here are some signs to look out for:

  • Changes in style of clothing, hair or music.
  • Hanging out with a bad crowd or new friends you don’t know.
  • Isolating from the family.
  • Changes in attitude or sudden burst of anger.
  • Paranoia – acting like everyone is out to get them.

If you and your family need assistance finding help with alcohol and drug treatment, contact the Be Awesome Youth Coalition at 520-428-7750.

Priscilla Behnke is program director for Maricopa CAASA and Be Awesome Coalition.


This column appears in the March issue of InMaricopa.

Priscilla Behnke.

By Priscilla Behnke

  1. It’s the most popular drug. With all the talk about the latest epidemic, opioid abuse, it is important to remember that alcohol is still the most commonly used substance by teens. This holds true for our local youth. For the last 12 years all data points to alcohol being the default substance used by Maricopa teens.
  2. The line, “Everybody’s doing it” is a lie. It’s counter intuitive when there is an endless supply of movies ready to be streamed straight to your phone depicting teens and raging alcohol thirsty partiers, but they aren’t. In fact, while it’s the most popular drug of choice, more kids chose not to drink. According to the latest Arizona Youth Survey data, only 17.5 percent of local teens report using alcohol in the 30 days. This same survey has shown, cycle after cycle, teens who use alcohol are in the minority.
  3. Local teens are on the friends-and-family plan. The 17.5 percent of adolescent drinkers accessed their alcohol from somewhere or someone. According to local surveys conducted by the Be Awesome Youth Coalition, our teens are on the friends and family plan. The top two ways youth accessed alcohol were:
  • Party with friends (without adults present)
  • At home from parents or guardians

We need to be vigilant about where are kids are going. We shouldn’t just worry about parties; whom our children are hanging out with is also important. Get to know the parents of our children’s friends. Ensure they are not hanging out at homes where adults are sharing alcohol with minors.

  1. All brains are not equal. There are several reasons we should take underage drinking seriously. Brain development is ongoing for what experts believe to be into the early to mid-20s. In the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, a study completed in 2010 by neuroscientist Susan Tapert found that teens who abused alcohol do worse on thinking and memory tests than their non-drinking peers. I meet parents all the time who take pride in their child’s education. If their child is drinking, they are putting said education at risk.
  2. You have the greatest influence. You as a parent have a great impact over your child’s decisions. If you talk with your kids about alcohol, they will listen. Parents who do not engage in discussions about alcohol use risk leaving a vacuum on the issue open for anyone to fill. Your role as a parent is key in helping to reduce underage drinking. For more information follow us on Facebook at The Be Awesome Youth Coalition page or visit our website mcasa.org.

Priscilla Behnke is program director for Maricopa CAASA and Be Awesome Coalition.

Facebook.com/BeAwesomeYouthCoalition, PBehnke@macaasa.org 


This column appears in the October issue of InMaricopa.