Will Your Child Be a Binge-Drinker?

My son hasn't shown much interest in alcohol -- at least not yet (or to me!).  But a new study has found that you may be able to predict which of your children is going to binge drink in the future.

Of course, genetics play a part.   And I may feel a little more nervous than most folks because alcoholism runs in my family.

But the study found that genetics play only a small part.  Brain function and about 40 different other variables can also help scientists predict with about 70 percent accuracy which teens will become binge drinkers.

When I was a young teen, a younger cousin used to go everywhere with her shampoo bottle.  Turns out it was really liquor.  Not sure if this is why but at the age of 15, she became pregnant, and was able to hide it till about her eighth month.  Her family thought she had just gained weight.  It was a sad coincidence that her baby was born with Down Syndrome, which had nothing to do with her lack of prenatal care, but here she was, at 15, with a baby with very special needs, and alcohol probably had something to do with that.

 But back to the study. 

Researchers identified brain networks in study participants that predisposed some teens to higher-risk behaviors like experimentation with drugs and alcohol. This new study followed an earlier one where kids were followed for years (they're now 19), identifying those who developed a pattern of binge-drinking, according to newswise.com.

One researcher points out that there are not one or two or three variables that are critical.  The final analysis?  A wide mixture of reasons underlie teenage drinking.

Some of the best predictors were personality, sensation-seeking traits, lack of conscientiousness, and a family history of drug use. Having even a single drink at age 14, was also a powerful predictor.  But probably the most critical predictor?  The impulsivity that often accompanies risk-taking behavior.    In addition, not surprisingly, those teens who had experienced several stressful life events were among those at greater risk for binge-drinking.

My son is not a big risk-taker, which has made it easy for me as a parent.  He's a worrier, like me.  Recently I told him an electrician had told me years ago our attic was a fire hazard.  "What did you do about it?" he asked.  "Nothing," I replied.  Now he worries every day the house is going to burn down.  Actually, maybe he's just a smart kid.

Would I have called my cousin a risk-taker?  We were all so young back then.  But clearly, if you're drinking at a young age, you're not thinking about consequences.  You're thinking about fun, and belonging.  And who hasn't, at some point in life?

I don't know if we'll have a problem with alcohol or drugs with my son.  He seems to have his head on pretty straight, but you never know.  Past behavior is not always a predictor of future behavior, despite what the experts say.  But it's one of the few things I've worried about with him, because he's been so (scarily) normal in just about every other way.  The biggest reason?  I'll have no control over it.

Maybe it's because he's been raised in a home where we've always tried to do what's right for him (even though I really can't stand watching soccer every night, sorry, World Cup) or (me, the athlete, who broke her wrist jogging this winter!) running around and kicking the ball with him on the front lawn.  But the big things, too.  Working with him on science projects he always leaves to the last minute, where I have to run out to Staples to get posterboard at 8 o'clock the night before. (It's true.   I'm a helicopter parent.)

We haven't had to be concerned about much with this kid but the hard years lie ahead.  In just three years he'll be driving.  Now you'll have to worry about both of us on the road!  And here's the biggest thing I despair over.  As older parents, we're probably not going to be here, when he's at the age he might really need us. 

But, as much as I need to control things, I really can't.  When he starts going to parties where there might be drugs or alcohol, I'm just going to have to do something I'm very bad it.  Letting go. 


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