With the month of April designated Alcohol Awareness Month, Vasavada said those closest to a child need to be watchful for indications that the child is either involved with alcohol himself or herself, or suffering from the stress of having a parent or other family member who is an alcoholic.
Experts estimate that one in four children in the U.S. is affected by or exposed to a family alcohol problem. This exposure puts children at increased risk of immediate and future problems. Among them are physical illness, emotional disturbances, behavior problems, and lower educational performance, as well as a much higher susceptibility to alcoholism or other addiction later in life.
“Youngsters who get involved in drinking before age 15 are at far greater risk of more severe forms of alcoholism, so anytime you see drinking at such an early age, it is a dangerous situation,” Vasavada said.
Generally, Vasavada pointed out, children who drink before they are 15 are already starting to get in trouble at school when it comes to following rules or controlling their behavior. “With more of a risk-taking nature, these young adults experiment with alcohol,” Vasavada said. And at that age, he added, it is more likely that their brains will get sensitized to the alcohol consumption and, in effect, need alcohol in order to feel “normal.”
“Individuals who grew up in alcoholic homes, or children currently in those situations, tend to have certain tendencies. They don’t have a good sense of what is normal or acceptable behavior and relationships,”
Vasavada also cautioned that these children “may also display a mix of behavior, where they are super-responsible in some areas, such as school or taking care of their siblings, but super-irresponsible in other areas, such as their behavior in social settings.”
The challenge for educators, parents, and friends is to recognize the signs of early drinking or the stresses of an alcoholic and dysfunctional family. The extremes of responsible and irresponsible behavior are one obvious sign, but also a high occurrence of depression, beyond the normal adolescent mood swings.
Once someone recognizes these signs, they need to take action and bring the problem to the attention of the parents – if appropriate – or school or medical personnel. UBH Denton, for example, offers free evaluations for potential patients, in the areas of alcoholism, drug dependency, depression, and many other mental health issues.
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University Behavioral Health provides a supportive, compassionate, and innovative private healing environment of patient-centered care for patients and their families. It is part of Ascend Health Corporation, a national behavioral healthcare company providing a full range of psychiatric services through private hospitals. University Behavioral Health serves the north Texas-Oklahoma region through hospitals in Denton and Carrollton. Private and confidential assessments are provided at no charge. Visit www.ubhdenton.com for more information.