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Why shouldn’t I drink alcohol if all my friends are? What’s wrong with marijuana; it’s legal in some states?

Have you ever heard these questions from the young people in your life and not known how to respond? For youth, we feel that the best and simplest answer is always not to use, but you should be prepared to back up this expectation with solid evidence as to why it’s the best strategy.

It’s the law

Alcohol and other recreational drugs are illegal for teenagers to use. The consequences of breaking laws can negatively impact teens for months if not years down the road.

It’s a health risk

Several key areas of the adolescent brain are affected by the use of alcohol and other drugs. Adolescents who use alcohol and other drugs may impair their ability to consider consequences and make good decisions.

Evidence also shows that early alcohol use can lead to hormonal imbalances necessary for the normal development of organs, muscles and bones. Other drug use can have additional health consequences.

It increases vulnerability to addiction

The brain is not fully developed until at least 25 and is much more vulnerable to addiction during this critical phase. Young people who use alcohol before the age of 15 are six times more likely to develop substance abuse problems than those who wait until the age of 21.

This risk increases even more if addiction runs in your family.

‘Responsible use’ is not typical teen behavior

Many proponents of teaching responsible use to teenagers cite European norms as a potential way for the United States to address its youth alcohol problem.

The truth is that teens don’t typically consume alcohol the same way as adults. Young people consume more than 90 percent of their alcohol by binge or high risk drinking. Getting drunk or “wasted” is often the goal and can lead to increased risk for negative consequences, such as DUI and sexual assault.

What can I do?

Don’t stand on the sidelines, be part of the solution.

  • Develop a “no-use policy” for the children and teens in your life, share it with them and consistently enforce it. Have the conversation with family, friends and neighbors about the importance of the no use message in keeping our youth safe and healthy. There are many tools available to help such as the “Talk. They Hear You.” campaign, which has an interactive phone app.
  • Partner with I Am The Solution Campaign to access information and resources to help youth in our community to grow into healthy and productive citizens.

In our next column, we will be talking about how positive adult influences can reduce negative peer pressure.

Lisa Harrison is from Cumberland County Juvenile Probation and coordinator of the Youth Aid Panel program.

This is the second in a series of articles that will focus on how all community members can be part of the solution in helping to keep youth safe, healthy and substance-free. For more information and resources, check out the initiative website at and follow on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.


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