voices in the family

Young adults and alcohol


Most parents hate to think about their teens and young adult children using or misusing alcohol. Experimentation is common but it comes with risks to individuals and society: “…drunk driving deaths and ER visits, pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases incurred under the influence, wasted police time, suspensions from school, wrecked athletic and career dreams, families eaten away by worry and deceit, laws eroded by persistent disregard, and young adults falling into self-destructive habits that can be hard to shake.” (All noted in the 2010 report Understanding Teen Drinking Cultures in America).

Dr. Dan Gottlieb and his guests Kathleen Meyers, Tisha Miller, and Hugh Gusterson discuss young adult drinking–what parents and their kids should know, talk about, and do to promote healthy behavior.

Kathleen Meyers, Ph.D. is a senior researcher at the Treatment Research Institute (TRI) in Philadelphia. She is a recognized leader in the assessment and treatment of adolescent substance use disorders, and has served on numerous national expert panels on adolescent treatment.

Tisha Miller, L.C.S.W., is a family specialist at TRI and works within the organization’s Family Training Program.

Hugh Gusterson is a professor of anthropology and sociology at George Mason University. He is the co-conductor of the study Understanding Teen Drinking Cultures in America (2010).


Recommended reading:

  • From Binge to Blackout: A Mother & Son Struggle with Teen Drinking by Chris Volkmann, Toren Volkmann
  • Frequently Asked Questions About Alcohol Abuse and Binge Drinking by Vanessa Lynn Michaels, Jeremy Harrow
  • Drinking Among Young Adults: Screening, Brief Intervention, and Outcome by Brian Borsari, Tracy O’Leary Teyyaw, Peter M. Monti
  • Beat Binge Drinking: A Smart Drinking Guide for Teens, College Students, and Young Adults Who Choose to Drink by Donna J. Cornett
  • Children of Alcoholics: A Critical Appraisal of Theory and Research by Kenneth J. Sher
  • Psychological Characteristics of Children of Alcoholics by Kenneth J. Sher

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  • Suzanne

    I agree with the guest who described the Zero Tolerance in the states as contributing to the problem. In Nether Providence Twp, PA, A friend’s daughter was cited for being present at a party where alcohol was served. She blew a 0 on the breathalyzer. She had stayed to help her friend who was drunk. She had to go to court and perform community service as if she had been drinking herself. In my mind, we want to teach our children to be able to say no without having to stay home every weekend.

    Having raised 3 children in NP, I am hard pressed to name a family who has not had at least 1 child appear in court for drinking or another minor infraction. This mentality, which I believe is a result of excessive litigation and the desire for strong sound bites is unsuccessful in restricting drinking and wastes township resources.

  • Christopher Keenan

    I enjoy the show today. However, as a pediatrician and a father, there is good data to take the no tolerance policy- if we are permissive or wishy washy, not a clear message, then you are not sending a strong message. I believe we need to send a strong message to our children. You can still keen a line of communication open

  • Clarity

    I found this show to be almost painful to listen to. Except for the gentleman from George Mason (who advocated moderation and good modeling in a family situation), the insistence that exposure to alcohol and reasonable education about alcohol (and its responsible use) be restricted until the government mandated age of 21 to be naive. In my opinion, part of the problem with teen drinking and binge drinking in the teen and early adult years results from lack of experience with a socially and culturally acceptable substance in a family or social setting. As well, I find it hypocritical to hear clinicians talk about the damage to the developing child of alcohol use without acknowledging that children are routinely medicated for long periods of time with drugs. In this country, children as young as pre-school age are given strong medications like Ritalin, Adderall, Risperdal, Seroquel, etc. (many in off-label uses!) that are known psychoactive drugs. Abuse of any substance has negative consequences but feeding a child psychoactive pharmaceuticals for behavior “deficits” and then condemning alcohol use strikes me as ridiculous. I wonder about the number of prescriptions written vs. the number of teens who have experimented with alcohol. I wonder which number is higher??

  • Jim DeMaio Jr

    Dr Gottlieb, I listen to the show sometimes twice per week. I echo the comment above: the show was almost painful to which to listen! Kathleen Myers is disingenuous and takes a disingenuous position. is she from the 1980s? Zero tolerance has never worked and will never work. Why are we so knee jerkingly reactive towards drugs and alcohol, yet we are the drunkest, most pill-popping nation in the world? The show made me angry and makes me realize what I will tell my own son, is that drugs and alcohol make you feel good. I will take your stance, doctor!




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