Motor vehicle accidents are a leading cause of death for teens. Sure to increase their risk? Driving while impaired.
In fact, I shudder to think of the one or two narrow misses I had as a young adult, before I really understood what alcohol did to my body. Until I was 21, I was the “good kid” who didn’t touch alcohol. On my 21st birthday, I drank three beers while tubing down a Central Texas river. When I stepped out of the river, I grabbed the keys to my car, believing that my swimming thoughts were just what my peers called a “buzz.” Thankfully, my older brother stepped in and named for me what my peers wouldn’t: I was drunk and completely unable to safely drive a car.
The term “buzz” is thrown around a lot in social circles, when teens and young adults don’t want to name that they are incapacitated. I get that. The term “drunk” is negative and sloppy. But buzzed? That’s just having a good time.
Unfortunately, buzzed is synonymous with drunk, and our teens and young adults are at increased risk of injury and death while driving if they believe otherwise. Martha Lockie, director of community outreach for the New Life House Recovery Community, explains, “Car crashes are a leading cause of death for teens, and about a quarter of these car crashes involve an underage drinking driver.” The amount of alcohol consumed doesn’t matter in the statistics — it only matters that the driver was under the influence of any alcohol. She adds that according to the Centers for Disease Control, 2,650 teens died in motor vehicle accidents in 2011, and another 292,000 were treated for crash-related injuries. That’s roughly 600 teens dead from drinking and driving, and another 73,000 injured. This clearly bears our attention, whether we’re calling it buzzed or drunk.
Interestingly, Lockie states that a key component of teen drinking behavior is the existence of black and white family rules. This flies in the face of what many parents seem to believe — that moderation and experimentation with alcohol will increase kids’ understanding of the impact of alcohol on the body. It doesn’t, apparently. “Parents need to be as black and white as possible, and institute hard line family rules about drinking and driving,” she says. “It is statistically proven that the longer kids hold off on experimenting, the better chances they have of not becoming addicted in the future.” In other words, the longer kids wait to experiment, the better chance they have of staying alive in those tenuous teen and young adult years.
So, Mom, don’t be cool. Be a hard-ass about alcohol consumption to minimize the risks of your teen driving with a “fun buzz.” It might just keep your kid alive.