After high school: Talking with your young adult about underage drinking

  • Published
  • By Mr. Matthew Palmisano
  • 182nd Medical Group Director of Psychological Health

High school students typically graduate in late May or possibly early June. While they’re wrapping up high school studies, high school seniors make important decisions about the rest of their lives. Some choose to pursue a college degree immediately, and others may decide to join the workforce or military or delay college enrollment.

The quest for independence and self-reliance can be exciting. But it also can increase stress levels and lead to a variety of unhealthy behaviors—like underage drinking. Research shows that the brain continues to develop into the 20s, so alcohol use can damage young adults’ maturing brains—just as they’re starting the next phase of their lives.

Underage drinking is prevalent after seniors graduate from high school. After graduating from high school, young adults tend to drink more each year—even before they turn 21 and are legally allowed to drink. In fact, drinking increases between the ages of 18 and 22 for those who go to college full-time and for those who don’t.

Your Guidance Matters
In fact, research shows that young adults whose parents made rules about drinking were less likely to drink as they grew and became independent. It’s crucial that you communicate openly and clearly with your young adult about alcohol and the behavior you expect. Plus, if you commit to knowing more about them—what they’re doing, who they’re with, where they are—you’re more likely to have a positive effect on their behavior. Research shows that parents and caregivers who express disapproval of underage drinking protect young adults from most alcohol use and related consequences, even if a young person is already using alcohol.

CONVERSATION GOALS: Highlight that underage drinking can hurt their health and limit job success. Make your “no underage alcohol use” position clear. Help find activities that don’t involve alcohol. Instead of lecturing, talk with your young adult about alcohol in ways that show you care about, trust, and respect their growing independence. If your young adult is struggling to transition to adulthood, discuss ways to cope with any related negative feelings. Be prepared to help your young adult find mental health treatment Military OneSource 1-800-342-9647 could be a great resource. What you say can make a world of difference. Start the conversation today.

Please let me know if you have any questions or of need of assistance.

Very Respectfully,
Matthew Palmisano, MSW, LICSW, US ARMY CPT (Ret)
Director of Psychological Health
Cell: 309-210-8390