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Beline Obeid

Alcohol, teen brains don't mix

Health Point


January 19, 2012
Dear Jeff and Debra:

My best friend has three sons, ages 13, 14 and 16. They are all drinking alcohol, and she is fine with it. We met for coffee a couple weeks ago, and I was aghast when she explained to me that she sat all of her sons down when they turned 12 and explained she was open to drinking if it took place at home or they called for a ride home if they were drinking with friends.

Her logic was that her boys were going to drink anyway, so she wanted to control how and where they do it. I didn't know how to respond, but I was thinking that she was letting a wild bull out of the pen with no hopes of holding onto the reins.

I have two problems. I am close to this family, so I really care what happens to these boys. Second, my children get together with her boys at least twice a month. I don't want my kids poorly influenced or, worse, enticed into drinking.

It's a sticky situation. I'm afraid our friendship will cool off if I say something or keep my children away from hers. I'm in a quandary. What's the best thing to do?

Shocked and Dismayed

Dear Shocked:

First, you protect your children. Most teens and pre-teens take their first drink at a friend's house. Since underage drinking is accepted at your friend's house, you can expect your children are at high risk in that environment.

Your friendship may not survive this change in your relationship, yet, we suggest you have a direct conversation with your friend. Don't discuss her choices; discuss yours. Explain you expect your children to abstain from using mood-altering substances. Therefore, you ask them to stay away from high-risk situations, which includes classmates and peers who are drinking or taking other drugs.

Educate yourself about drinking and the adolescent brain. New scientific methods for studying the brain are producing research that is important for parents to know.

The plasticity of the young brain allows it to learn, mature, adapt and acquire information, but also renders it vulnerable to toxic substances such as alcohol.

Peter M. Monti, professor of medical sciences and director of the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at Brown University, explains: "AlcoholÖcan disrupt the adolescent brain's ability to learn life skills. So, not only can heavy drinking during this time get the adolescent into trouble through behavior such as risk taking or drinking and driving, but it can also make the brain less able to learn important life skills that can help one avoid trouble as an adult."

Researchers warn many serious adult mental disorders have their onset during childhood, including ADHD and bi-polar spectrum disorders, and alcohol may play a role. When drinking begins young, the risk for addiction in adulthood is significantly higher.

Research has identified subtle but important brain changes occurring among adolescents with alcohol use disorder, resulting in a decreased ability in problem solving, verbal and non-verbal retrieval, visuospatial skills, and working memory.

Educate yourself about the consequences of adolescent drinking and share what you learn with your friend to support decisions you are making for your children.

More importantly, talk to your children about alcohol, discuss a zero tolerance policy and explain why abstaining from alcohol and other drugs is the right choice.

The Jays are professional interventionists who live in Grosse Pointe Farms. They may be contacted at (313) 882-6921 or


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Jeff Jay and Debra Jay are the authors of "Love First: A New Approach to Intervention for Alcoholism and Drug Addiction," and Debra Jay is the author of "No More Letting Go: The Spirituality of Taking Action Against Alcoholism and Drug Addiction." Jeff and Debra Jay are professional interventionists who live in Grosse Pointe Farms. They may be contacted with your questions at (313) 882-6921 or at lovefirst.net.
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