Frequently Asked Questions

What age should I start talking to my children about alcohol and drug use?

It is never too early to begin talking to your child about alcohol and drug use. Use language they can understand when delivering the message that using alcohol is against the law until you are 21. Make sure that your child knows the expectation in your house is no alcohol use until they turn 21. Saying things like “Well, I don’t like it but I know you will probably drink, just promise me that you won’t ever drink and drive, okay?” sends the wrong message. You just gave them permission to drink. And because alcohol is a chemical that affects decision-making, impulse control, judgment, etc. they might drive after drinking because they are under the influence.

How do I start a conversation with my child about this topic?

Use everyday opportunities to talk to your children about the legal, responsible and appropriate use of alcohol. Naturally it needs to fit the age of your child.

Use visual cues such as a tv program or movie where people are having a drink. Discuss whether the situation looks realistic. Is everyone dressed really nice, living in extraordinarily nice homes (nothing out of place), have great jobs, no problems, etc. Is this what real life is like? Listen to what your child has to say.

One time when I was meeting with a mother’s group at a church, one mother said, “Oh, when our family is somewhere and my husband or I might have a drink, we discuss who will have a drink and who will drive home.” Perfect! Just make sure your children are aware of this discussion. By pointing out the fact that one of you is not having a drink so they can drive the family home safely uses a real life situation to talk about what is legal, appropriate and responsible. This situation can also be used to discuss your family values and rules regarding alcohol use in general, including underage alcohol use.

Do all high school students use alcohol?

No, they do not. In fact, the majority of students do not. Unfortunately, some people perceive that most students use alcohol and perpetuate the myth by claiming it to be true. In Minnesota we have what is called the Minnesota Student Survey that a majority of school districts participate in every 3 years. The 2007 Minnesota Student survey reports the percentage of students who reported having alcoholic beverages at least once in the past year shows a downward trend since 1992.

What is the difference between “use” and “addiction?”

Alcohol and other drug addiction may begin with a personal choice to use these substances. However, research shows that, for many, a physiological dependence soon takes hold. Drug dependence produces significant and lasting changes in brain chemistry and function. These drug-induced changes in brain function may have behavioral consequences, including the defining characteristic of addiction: compulsion to use alcohol or other drugs despite adverse consequences.

Like diabetes or hypertension, addiction is a chronic medical illness that can be successfully treated.

Historically, the human brain was thought to be fully developed at puberty. We know now that this is not the case.

What is a chemical dependency assessment?

A chemical dependency assessment will include an interview with a counselor in which the individual’s chemical use will be reviewed along with the impact of that use on the individual’s daily life and relationships. The assessment may also include an individual diagnostic test, review of relevant medical, legal, mental health and previous treatment records, a physical screening and assessment for detoxification and interviews with other people in that individual’s life. Assessment should address each individual’s unique needs.

Who do I call for an assessment?

If you have health insurance or coverage through a managed care organization, call the member services number on the back of your member card or call the social service agency of the county in which you live. If you live on a tribal reservation, call the tribal office. Anyone can request an assessment for him/herself or for another person. The county or tribal agency must provide the assessment.

If you are currently enrolled in a managed care plan under MinnesotaCare or PMAP (prepaid medical assistance or pre-paid general assistance medical care), you should call the number on the back of your enrollment card to see where to go for your assessment.

Where can I refer someone for treatment or to get help?

The first step in getting help is to receive a chemical dependency assessment by a professional. The type of insurance coverage you have usually determines where you go for an assessment. If you do not have insurance coverage, you may be able to receive help through your county.

I drank when I was underage and I survived. What’s the big deal?

Perhaps you did survive just fine. Not everyone does. Drinking or using drugs, illicit or prescription drugs not intended for that person, can be dangerous. They can increase the risk of carrying out, or being a victim of, a physical or sexual assault. Using these chemicals can affect how well a young person judges risk and makes sound decisions, and can lead to other problems such as bad grades in school and run-ins with the law. Using chemicals can also play a role in risky sexual activity. This can increase the chance of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

According to new research, using chemicals can harm the growing brain, especially when teens drink a lot. Today we know that the brain continues to develop from birth through the teen years into the mid-20s.

But still – What’s the big deal?

A person who starts drinking at the legal age of 21 has only a 7 percent chance of becoming addicted. Children who begin drinking at age 13 have a 45 percent chance of becoming alcohol dependent. Research shows more than half of parents don’t know that underage drinking increases risks of alcoholism. Did you?