Underage Substance Use during the Holidays: Special Occasion or Potential Enabling?
The holidays are officially upon us (yes, for the purposes of this article, that includes Halloween). Why? Because Halloween kicks off a series of “special occasions” during which substance use is often expected and encouraged, even underage substance use.
When it comes to the culture of permissive drug use and alcohol consumption, Halloween is right up there with other major holidays, especially as more and more adults co-opt the day in an effort to relive their childhoods or just have a different kind of fun than they’re “allowed” to have during the 364 other days of the year.
Although Halloween has become more of an adult-friendly holiday, the others it helps to usher in have long been, for many, an excuse to drink a little too much and signal to the kids around them that it’s perfectly OK to do so.
Whether you’re a person whose addiction took route at the holiday table, one for whom the holidays are a trigger, or a parent who is trying to protect their children from drinking or doing drugs, here are a few important things to consider:
There Is No “Special Occasion” Exception for Underage Drinking
The legal drinking age in the US is 21 for a reason. There is evidence-based data to support the assertion that restricting alcohol consumption to this age reduces car crashes, substance abuse, and the fallout caused by alcohol addiction.
Having said that, many of us have had parents, uncles, aunts, older siblings, older cousins, or even family friends that are more than happy to keep the beer or wine flowing at holiday parties. They’ll say things like: “It’s not a big deal,” or “As long as you’re not driving.”
In the meantime, an established and growing body of research links underage substance use to higher lifetime rates of alcoholism; whether you’re filling the glass or having your glass filled, remember that.
It Can Become A “Big Deal” Very Quickly
Many “cool” or “sympathetic” adults simply don’t understand the lasting changes that substance abuse creates in a child’s brain chemistry. In addition to grossly uneven development, to begin with, the teenage or adolescent brain is much more susceptible to outside influence. When this influence includes the permission of substance abuse, which, at such an early age, can lead to long-term misalignment of neurotransmitters that contributes to addiction.
In other words, the child wants to please or identify with the adult; the adult wants to be the child’s friend rather than a responsible figure and lets the child drink or use drugs; the underdeveloped brain is permanently affected, and addiction is more likely…Happy Holidays.
Sometimes the Worst Thing You Can Be Is “Cool”
Whether you’re a parent, aunt, uncle, cousin, or family friend, it’s understandable to want to have a good and trusting relationship with the younger people in your life; but this doesn’t mean letting them dictate the terms or manipulate you.
While teenagers are more self-aware and have more agency than ever, there is still tremendous opportunity for the adults in their lives to be positive, formative, game-changing influences; be that instead of the person that used to let them drink or smoke weed with their friends at your holiday parties.
It May Be Time to Sit Down with Yourself
Whether you’re an adult who has permitted juvenile substance abuse or someone who can trace their addiction back to a family member, as so many can, it may be time to tackle these issues and reframe the holidays in your memory and perception. When did your drinking or drug use start? Who were the adults that encouraged it? “What were the triggers?”
If you’re struggling with substance use, all of these questions must be answered and addressed as part of your rehab program. Recovery Unplugged offers all levels of care to help you or your loved one identify the root causes and triggers associated with your addiction so you can reclaim your holidays, health, hope, and happiness.
Whether it’s Trick or Treating, Too Much Eating, or Season’s Greetings, holidays can reveal problematic substance abuse issues, including permissive underage substance use from adults. Recovery Unplugged is ready to work with you or your family to help restore harmony during the holiday season and throughout the year. Call now to start treatment.