Alcohol is the most dangerous drug known to humanity. That’s what certified alcohol and drug abuse counselor Mary J. Brennan confirmed in a talk on substance use prevention to parents at De La Salle Zobel School.
A La Sallian educator for 38 years, Brennan opened frank discussions about preventing and managing drug- and alcohol-related incidents at home.
She said, “Your child will encounter parents of friends who will say, ‘Your parents are so straight; it’s okay to drink beer at my house.’ Helpers or drivers can be asked to buy alcohol for minors. Drugs are cheap, P200 can buy you enough, so controlling your children’s allowance won’t really work.”
Brennan stressed, “Your child knows more than you do. We have to admit that we can’t be experts in all things. What’s available constantly changes, so we struggle to keep up with the latest.”
However, she added, “Set standards and adhere to them. Young people will push against rules, but most of them like to know exactly where they stand.”
Brennan asked the audience to reflect: “Are you their parent or their friend? When your child turns 30, then you can spend the rest of your lives being friends. But tell them, because it is important for them to know: ‘Our job is to raise you to the best of our ability. Friendship doesn’t fulfill that role.’”
She also emphasized the roles of spouses. When a child sasses back at Mom, for instance, Dad should say, “Do not speak to my wife that way.”
We should not lose ourselves in just parental roles, and children should know that.
A common “cool parent” move is to allow “supervised drinking” so their child either learns of the parent’s limits or gets turned off by the experience.
Brennan countered, “Would you use that argument for sexual activity? ‘They’re gonna drink anyway, might as well do it here in my house?’ There is a reason why it is illegal for kids to drink alcohol before they are 18 years old—there is no medically safe dosage of alcohol for children below 18.”
While it may seem unbelievable to even the most strait-laced of households, substance abuse can happen in one’s own home.
Brennan recounted a story about a plumber who stole not money but his client’s medicine. “Get rid of anything accessible in your medicine cabinet that can be abused,” she advised.
Alcohol is “the most dangerous drug known to man,” said Brennan. “It is the only drug that can swim through every blood vessel in the body, thus affecting every cell in the body.”
She said that in a typical population, 30 percent don’t drink, 40 percent drink alcohol socially/wisely, while 30 percent abuse it, and it is this percentage that we need to worry about.
“If someone drinks alcohol, the next day we can find it in a hair strand, nail clipping or piece of skin. It’s how we determine if drunk driving is to blame for car accidents,” she said. “Alcohol is a depressant drug that puts the brain to sleep. A sufficient amount of any depressant drug—including alcohol—can cause the brain to shut down.”
Brennan explained that when someone drinks to pass-out levels, two-thirds of the brain is no longer working—a drug-induced coma. “Sometimes, a person comes out of a coma, as in after a surgery. But when the coma is induced by drinking alcohol, the coma may lead to death.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines one drink of alcohol as: 1.5 oz of liquor (40-50 percent alcohol), 5 oz of wine (8-12 percent alcohol), 12 oz or 354 ml of beer (3-5 percent alcohol).
For light beer, only the sugar is lessened; the blood alcohol content is the same as regular beer. “A drink is a drink is a drink. Saying ‘It’s only beer’ doesn’t mean it’s less harmful. Five or more drinks of alcohol in one hour can kill you.”
Just like secondhand smoke and junk food, all drugs are filtered through the liver. “It takes a minimum of two hours for one drink to be filtered through the liver,” said Brennan.
“Your liver is not finished growing until age 23,” she pointed out. “So, even if 18 is the legal age, you can destroy your liver too soon. Once you are 23 and your liver is fully grown, you must also weigh at least 150 lbs or 68 kg to filter one drink of alcohol out of your body in one hour.”
Is it possible to drink alcohol responsibly? Brennan said yes, but only when the following conditions are met: drinker is of legal age and not driving; amount is medically safe; drink is slowly ingested and only when eating at the same time.
There is no other responsible way to take dangerous drugs.
In social situations and you choose to drink in front of your children, make it a teachable moment: Eat and drink at the same time.
Make sure guests have alcohol filtered out of their bodies before they are allowed to drive home.
“As alcohol puts your brain to sleep, it impairs your judgment. Seventy percent of all teen pregnancies were due to drunkenness at the time of conception. When you choose to drink, you voluntarily let go of self-control, and so self-moderation is difficult,” explained Brennan.
She also tackled some myths: “You cannot flush alcohol out of your system. Drinking water slows down the absorption or the effect, but it will still take two hours for it to get through your system. So, if you take a glass of wine at 11 p.m., and you pee at 11:45 p.m., you urinate only the grape juice, the alcohol is still in your system till 1 a.m.
“In bars, they serve salty snacks to make you thirsty and drink some more,” she said. “But for every 350 ml bottle of beer you drink, you urinate 520 ml, which causes you to get dehydrated. Hangovers are due to dehydration.”
A parent asked if it was okay that her husband has three beers a night and their kids see it.
“Not medically because of the cumulative effect,” Brennann replied. “More importantly, address the underlying issue: Why choose to deaden your senses and be drugged? However, if the child sees parents drinking socially and properly, that can be a good example for a young person. Give them information and empower them to make good choices.”
She stressed that we need to have intelligent and calm conversations with our children. “They need to hear us say to them: ‘This is not a healthy choice for you to make at this time in your life.’”
Alcohol addiction affects everyone. It can be prevented and successfully treated but it can never be cured. “Once an addict, always an addict,” said Brennan. “Hence, the term ‘recovering alcoholic,’ is used even by those not using anymore.”
Treatment of addiction takes time. “You don’t get ill overnight and you don’t get well overnight. Rehab can be 30 days or years for one to develop a whole new lifestyle,” she said.
“So, let’s take care of ourselves,” she advised. “Self-care, prayer, meditation, counseling, addressing stress and anxiety
—none of these are selfish. Also, love the person, hate the addiction. There is always hope.” —CONTRIBUTED