Have you ever done something that caused you to walk away and say, “I’m never doing that again!”? And, you really meant it!
Believe it or not, a lot of kids think or say the same thing after their first experience* with drinking alcohol. And, they mean it, too!
A majority of kids report their first experience with alcohol as being a negative experience for them. The #1 reason kids give for why it was negative is because they didn’t like the taste of it. Other reasons they give are not liking the way it made them feel, the loss of control they felt, feelings of a hangover the next day, doing or saying something they later regretted, the guilt of knowing they did something illegal or wrong and the fear of getting caught and the consequences if they did.
No matter what the reason is a lot of kids who have drank at least once in their lifetime do not drink again for another extended period of time. The line of, “I’m never doing that again!”, actually buys more time before they might do it again.
You see this extended period of abstinence from kids who have done it at least once in data collected from surveys on adolescent usage. The Monitoring the Future (MTF) study of substance use among U.S. adolescents has been conducted annually since 1975 by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It is one of our most credible surveys nationally to get a glimpse of trends and usage each year.
If you look at the summary of the 2018 MTF survey which involved about 44,500 students in 8th, 10th and 12th grades enrolled in 392 secondary schools nationwide you will see…
24% of 8th graders,
43% of 10th graders, and
59% of 12th graders
reported having used alcohol at least once in their lifetime*.
But, when asked about their 30-day use, you find that only…
8% of 8th graders,
19% of 10th graders, and
30% of 12th graders report using alcohol regularly.
We need to be careful not to jump to the conclusion that every kid who uses alcohol (or any other substance) once automatically continues to use. This is not the case with a majority. Most kids walk away from their first experience without doing it again until later – if at all. These kids are just as important to reach with prevention as the kids who have never used yet. Buying additional time before they use alcohol again can make a positive difference in all aspects of their life.
However, there is that small percentage of kids – the minority - who do use alcohol for the first time and who have a positive experience. Perhaps they liked the taste or the way it made them feel. Maybe they didn’t have any guilt doing what they did or they didn’t fear getting caught or the consequences of it. For these kids, the chances of using alcohol again and sooner, rather than later, are quite high. They represent the minority of kids who will report using in the past 30 days on a survey.
As I wrote about in last week’s blog, it is the kids who begin drinking on a regular basis at an early age who have the highest risk for problems in adolescence and later in life. They are also trend setters among peers. Trends start with just a few people and grow to include more over time. Reaching these kids before their usage influences other peers to join in and before it begins to impact their own life negatively is imperative.
It’s important to recognize that when you work with middle and high school students you will have all three groups of users – those who have never used, those who have used just once or twice and those who are using on a regular basis. They ALL need an effective prevention approach as they are ALL at risk.
We tend to classify or label certain groups of kids as being at risk, based on where they live, who their family is, their socioeconomic status and other factors. Instead, I would challenge you to think about ALL kids being at risk and in need of effective prevention approaches.
At any time, any one of your kids – no matter who they are, where they live or the family they come from - can drink alcohol for the first time. And, none of us can predict which side of the fence they will land on once they do.
Will they be one of the lucky ones who walks away with a negative first experience vowing, “I’m never doing that again!”?
Or, will they be one of the unfortunate ones who has a positive experience and begins to walk down a path of regular usage?
We really can’t predict which experience kids will have. They don’t know either - until it happens.
If you have ever used alcohol in your life, could you have predicted what your first experience was really going to be like? Was it negative or positive for you? Did you walk away wanting to do it again and you did? Or, did you walk away and think, “I’m never doing that again!”, and you didn’t or you didn’t until some time later?
Well then, my friend, you need to know that your experience isn't that much different than the first time experiences your kids are having today.
P.S. *“First experience” or “Once in your lifetime” refers to someone drinking more than a few sips, unsupervised and not for spiritual or faith-based reasons.