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6 Ways to Stop Teen Drinking

Teenagers and booze can be a wicked combination. Teens can be impulsive and irrational, and alcohol can make them even more so. What can you do? Forewarned is forearmed. Consider these key strategies.

1. Wake up: Teens will drink. First the good news: Alcohol use among youths, including moderate and binge drinking, reached historic lows in 2011, according to Monitoring the Future, a survey that has tracked teen drug and alcohol use since 1975.

However, nearly one out of four high school students admits to binge drinking; boys and older teens are slightly more apt to overindulge than girls and younger teens, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some signs that your son or daughter may be hitting the sauce: moodiness, problems at school, excessive sleepiness or rebelling against normal family rules.

In a CDC survey, 28 percent of teens said they'd been in a car driven by someone who had been drinking. Car crashes are the No. 1 cause of death for teens, accounting for more than one in three fatalities.

2. Be firm about drinking and driving. Once your kids hit middle school, you should begin talking about the dangers of drinking and driving and discuss the "cool" idea of the designated driver. And make it clear that your kids can call you at any time for a ride home from a party—even if they are tipsy. "Always communicate support," advises Stratyner.

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3. Set rules. Decide on a policy that feels right to you and stick with it. Many experts suggest that zero tolerance is the only way. "The research shows that when teens are raised with a strict 'no drinking' policy, they are far less likely to drink—and if they do drink, they drink less," says Dr. Harris Stratyner, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City and vice chair of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

A minority of experts, however, say that parents should not demonize alcohol (forbidden fruit, etc.) and suggest that it's OK to let your child have a drink with you occasionally. A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, for instance, found that when kids drank with their parents they were less likely to report binge drinking within the previous two weeks.

Whatever you decide, make sure your teen understands that there will be consequences if they don't adhere to your rules.

"Kids don't have the ability to set limits," says Stratyner. "They need you to do it for them."

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4. Know that beer is not safer than, say, gin. "Mom, it's just a beer!" Nice try kiddo, but the truth is that a 12-ounce can of beer, a 5-ounce glass of vino and 1.5 ounces of the hard stuff all have the exact same amount of alcohol and will have the exact same stupefying effects on your child's body, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

5. Don't be an enabler. You might be tempted to be the cool parent and supply your kids with booze for their next party. Don't do it. When parents provide alcohol for teen parties, the teens are more likely to binge drink and get into car accidents, according to research from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Even if you have the good sense to never be a supplier, keep the liquor locked up when you're not home. Your teen might be totally trustworthy, but he or she may have a pal that is not.

6. Act fast. If you suspect a problem, talk to your child about his habit: He may not be aware that frequent drinking can become (or has become) an addiction. Explain that his brain is still developing and that he could irreparably damage that vital organ if he drinks excessively.

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