The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) estimates of the more than 16 million people who have Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), or alcoholism, over 623,000 are aged 12 to 17 years.
“I worry for my teenage son,” said Dara, a 35-year-old woman who asked her name be changed. “A lot of kids are drinking in high school and I know my son drinks. It may be illegal but they can get a hold of it.”
Dara’s concerns are valid. Nearly 80% of teens will experiment with alcohol by the time they finish high school. Those who start drinking before the age of 15 are six times more likely to develop alcohol dependence or abuse later vs. those who start later, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
“He just started driving,” said Dara. “When he takes my car, I don’t sleep till he comes home. It really scares me!”
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among youth 15 to 20 years and drinking under the influence is a problem.
“The school and the drivers’ ed people talk to the kids,” she said. “But kids don’t use their heads and make stupid decisions when they are with friends.” CDC sStudies suggest that 20% of teens will knowingly get into a car with someone who has been drinking and 8% will drive after drinking.
Binge drinking among teens is common and leads to absences from school, poor grades, depression, unwanted sexual activity and teen pregnancy, as well as physical problems and experimentation with other drugs.
Problems with unhealthy drinking habits carry over into adulthood and can lead to liver disease, digestive problems, heart problems and complications from diabetes. NIAAA estimates less than 10% of people diagnosed with AUD receive treatment.
“We need to talk about this like we would talk about any other disease,” said Blanca Lujan Westrich, community advocate coordinator at International Community Health Services (ICHS) in Bellevue. “We need to get rid of stigma and get people the help they need.”
Westrich explains the effects of AUD impact the whole family.
“It takes a lot of support and it’s a big ask to get help,” she confirms. Westrich, who is Hispanic, feels people from her community don’t always know how or where to get help. “I want people to know that this a conversation they can have with their medical provider in full confidentiality. Don’t fight this alone. Professional help is the best way forward.”
If you feel that you or a loved one is in need of help with alcohol and substance abuse, please call ICHS to learn more about getting help from experienced behavioral health providers at 206-788-3700.
International Community Health Services (ICHS) provides culturally and linguistically appropriate health services to improve the wellness of King County’s diverse people and communities. ICHS serves as part of the health safety net supporting the area’s neediest and most vulnerable, including immigrants, refugees, elderly and the young. ICHS’ commitment to health equity includes supporting safer neighborhoods, nutritious foods, green spaces, jobs, housing and economic opportunity. Since its founding in 1973, ICHS has grown from a single store-front clinic in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District with deep roots in the Asian Pacific Islander community, to employ more than 500 people and serve nearly 31,000 patients at eight clinic locations in 2017. For more information, please visit: www.ichs.com.