Drinking and Peer Pressure

Q: As the new year sets in and I begin to think ahead, I cannot help but recall some uncomfortable confrontations I had with my teenage sons last year in relation to alcohol. I sometimes feel like there are too many opportunities to drink in our communities. For example, our shul has a kiddush club every week, and my husband is a steady “member.”

There are many examples throughout the years of how people have debased themselves by getting drunk. How is it that so many still fall into this trap?

I, personally, try to limit how much alcohol comes into the house as well as the actual percentage of alcohol in the bottles. My teenage sons joke about it, but they don’t seem to understand my reasons for being so cautious.

Who’s to say my children might like alcohol a little too much? Or cigarettes, for that matter? But, if their friends drink (and/or smoke), peer pressure only complicates the issue by intensifying the pressure.

What are your thoughts about alcohol use among teenagers?

A: The problem you discuss is compounded by the fact that we live in a society where alcohol consumption is rampant. Chasunos are seen as an opportunity to hit the bar. Some workaholics anticipate unwinding with a drink (or more) after an overwhelming day.

Of course, if we were able to foresee which individuals were likely to become future candidates for alcohol abuse, it might be easier to nip future addictions in the bud. And, as you mentioned in passing, the same holds true for cigarette use. If one could have foreseen which bachurim who were offered their first cigarette on Purim (or any other time) would eventually become heavy smokers, “generous” adults (and peers) would refrain from introducing them to such potentially dangerous substances.

Most people are convinced they will not fall prey to destructive habits, and adolescents are sure that they will never make the same mistakes as the adults before them! Clearly, there are many rationally-driven teenagers, but peer pressure can be overpowering. Practice in advance and teach your children what to say when alcohol is pushed on them. Knowing how to say “No” appropriately is an important skill to learn.

You need to speak to your sons about the disastrous consequences of alcohol overconsumption. Emphasize the high statistics of fatalities that result from drunk driving, and explain that it is not easy to assess one’s own sobriety and fitness to drive after drinking — even after “only” one or two beers. One’s judgment is often already somewhat impaired at that point, so one’s self-assessment is limited.

Unfortunately, for some teenagers, the actual facts still may have little impact: they will never become a statistic…

Though the idea of “Nichnas yayin yotsei sod — When wine enters, secrets come out” exists, this is said about people who have the ability (even without alcohol!) to elevate their words of Torah.

If people are very uptight, they may look to alcohol to relax themselves and end up getting addicted. It is probable that if people found ways to be less rigid and more relaxed, there would be less substance abuse. This is something that parents need to encourage during the years their children are growing up. Teaching your children helpful coping mechanisms in times of stress is a lifelong gift.

Hatzlachah in this most important endeavor!