The holidays are a festive time for us to gather with family and friends, reminisce about good times and celebrate the joys in our lives. Oftentimes, these celebrations bring together music, food, gifts and not uncommonly, alcohol.
Not coincidentally, youth alcohol use tends to spike in December. Family celebrations bring together all ages, and according to a survey conducted by drugabuse.com, 73.7% of people drink during the holidays, with almost a third of respondents indicating that they drink more than they do during the rest of the year. This is concerning, but not surprising; many holiday festivities feature punch bowls and bar carts, and there are plenty of holiday-themed libations to choose from. However, it is important to be cognizant of the risks that come into play when alcohol is featured prominently during celebrations. Namely that for youth, the holidays are a time of increased exposure to alcohol. The adults in their lives may be drinking more, the parties they are attending often have alcohol present, and often times alcohol is a featured activity of the festivities- making drinking appear to be the fun, cool thing for teens to do in order to fit in at the party.
By age 15, up to 33% of youth have already tried alcohol, and 11% of the alcohol consumed in the United States is done so by youth 12-20 years old. (niaaa.nih.gov). Teens who drink are more likely to experience injuries or assault, and nearly 188,000 youth visit emergency rooms every year due to alcohol-related injuries. Annually, almost 4,500 youth die from alcohol-related accidents or injuries. Early alcohol use also puts youth at an increased risk of drug and alcohol addiction later in life.
So how can we host holiday parties that are mindful of youth?
To start, move the alcohol away from the focus of the party. Host an alcohol-free event or instead of setting alcohol next to the food or dessert table, set it in a room off to the side that is not as frequently trafficked. Nominate a few adults to keep an eye on the alcohol to make sure that no one underage is partaking. Make sure that guests know that the alcohol is not for anyone under the age of 21.
In addition, serving a fun drink for youth or make an alcohol-free punch the centerpiece of a table can make it so teens and adults and even kids can celebrate with the same goodies. Most holiday punches can easily be made without alcohol and can still be plenty festive.
These parties are also a great time to model responsible drinking. Discourage party goers from drinking too much and make it very clear to all guests that anyone who drinks should either have a designated driver or have a taxi or rideshare available to get home at the end of the night. You can also eliminate drinking games and binge drinking activities (including shots) in rooms where there are teens and children. Instead, plan games that can be enjoyed by those of all ages.
Lastly, use these occasions as opportunities to talk with your teens about alcohol. Let them know that you disapprove of underage drinking, and why it is a matter of their safety. Talk to them about drinking responsibly, and remind them that responsible drinking includes waiting until 21 to use alcohol.