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This Holiday Season, Teach Your Kids the Science of How Drinking Alcohol Can Hurt Them

WASHINGTON, Dec. 6 /PRNewswire/ -- As adolescents get ready to attend holiday parties, it's time for parents to have "The Talk" with them about why they shouldn't drink alcohol. Teens are constantly exercising their independence and individuality, and peer pressure is fierce. If their friends are drinking alcohol, chances are your teens will be too.

Even when parents are present at parties, there are no guarantees. According to a study last year by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, one-third of the teens surveyed had attended house parties where parents were present and teens were drinking. Fourteen-year olds were three times more likely than 13-year olds to attend such parties.

So giving your young teen "The Talk" is more important than ever. The Science Inside Alcohol Project, an alcohol education effort from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, suggests that parents try a new approach to curb teen drinking this holiday season. Provide kids with the scientific evidence behind why drinking alcohol can hurt them.

Adolescents believe they are invincible, which is perfectly normal developmentally. So remember to link what you are saying as closely as possible to their personal experiences. Here are five questions parents can ask and answer for their kids to explain alcohol's dangers.

1) Are kids who begin drinking before the age of 21 more likely to become alcoholics?

Yes. Almost half of all kids who begin drinking at age 14 or younger become alcohol dependent at some point in their lives. Less than ten percent of people who begin drinking over the age of 21 become alcoholics.

2) What are three important body organs that alcohol can harm?

Your liver: Alcohol can harm the liver's ability to remove poisons, germs and bacteria from blood as well as produce immune agents to control infection. If you drink alcohol it weakens your immune system and you are more likely to get sick over the holidays.

Your brain: Kids' brains are not fully developed, particularly the part that stores memory. So when you have 2-3 drinks, you are less likely to remember things that happen to you than a grown-up.

Your heart: Alcohol reduces blood flow to heart muscles causing weakness and deterioration. Of course, this is a long-term process. But if you start drinking now, as you get older it can cause problems.

3) Can drinking alcohol hurt your sports performance?

Absolutely. A recent ESPN report featuring Dr. Gary Wadler, a professor at the New York University School of Medicine, stated that drinking alcohol after a practice or a game can impair your ability to play sports for up to 14 hours. Some of the effects are slowed reaction time, problems with balance and steadiness, dehydration, and a decline in fine and complex motor skills.

4) Can drinking alcohol make you gain weight?

Yes. Drinking alcohol regularly can make you fatter particularly in your stomach. Alcohol is classified as a food not a drink because it contains calories. The average alcoholic drink has about the same amount of calories as a large baked potato but no nutritional value, so you don't get any vitamins from it.

5) Can drinking coffee or other stimulant drinks help sober you up enough to drive?

No. Caffeine is a stimulant and it can wake you up, but it does not stop alcohol's effect on making smart decisions or controlling a car. Don't be fooled by people who are "wide-awake drunks."

"Most adolescents don't really understand how alcohol affects their bodies," says Shirley Malcom, head of the Education and Human Resources directorate at AAAS. "Teaching them the science behind the damage drinking alcohol causes will hopefully make them less likely to use and abuse it."

The Science Inside Alcohol Project, funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), is developing an interactive, Web-based science and health curriculum for middle school students and their families on how alcohol affects the body. The project, which is part of the highly regarded "The Science Inside" series from AAAS, helps provide children, teens and adults with a science-based understanding of critical developmental and health issues.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world's largest general scientific society, and publisher of the journal, Science ( AAAS was founded in 1848, and has 262 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world, with an estimated total readership of 1 million. The non-profit AAAS ( is open to all and fulfills its mission to "advance science and serve society" through initiatives in science policy, international programs, science education and more. For the latest research news, log onto EurekAlert!,, the premier science-news Web site, a service of AAAS.

SOURCE American Association for the Advancement of Science
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