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How parents can help battle - and prevent - alcohol addiction

Dr. Susan Mathison, Catalyst Medical Center1 / 2
Dr. Sue Mathison, left, and others who attended the Dakota Medical Foundation annual meeting wear hats from the Matto Foundation, an organization founded to help prevent and battle addiction. Special to Forum News Service2 / 2

I had the privilege of chairing the recent Dakota Medical Foundation annual meeting. DMF is a Fargo-based regional health foundation started along with Dakota Hospital back in the 1960s. When the hospital was sold in the late 1990s, part of the proceeds came to the foundation, which has had a major role in improving the health and wellness of our communities.

We shared information about Lend-A-Hand Up, which is expanding its reach for online and in-person benefits supporting those having medical crises. We learned about a new workplace health initiative called P5 to help our companies have the healthiest workforce in the nation. And we honored several people who are doing amazing work in the field of addiction.

We heard from Dr. Mike and MaryBeth Traynor who lost their son, Matt, to addiction in 2016. This brave couple recounted Matt's tragic story. Though he was a straight-A student, a varsity player in multiple sports and an avid hunter and fisherman, he got caught in the web of addiction. It ultimately cost him his life at the age of 25.

Mike and MaryBeth have been able to turn their tragedy into hope for others. They established the Matto Foundation which encourages us to think about teen choices and actions. Because Matt was a wonderful outdoorsman who particularly loved Muskie fishing, the logo of the Matto Foundation features this large fish in bright colors. Mike and MaryBeth gave out hats and shirts emblazoned with the logo. Each item included a card about delaying that first drink. They suggested gifting these hats and shirts to kids with a message of help and hope and making better choices.

We can help protect our teens by encouraging them to delay their first drink. Research shows that there is a higher rate of addiction to alcohol, marijuana and opioids for those who are early drinkers. There are many great resources online, including an NIH study called from First Drink to First Drunk. I found some great information from DrinkWise.com out of Australia.

Delaying the introduction of alcohol to teens for as long as possible starts at home. Talking to our kids about alcohol and setting boundaries and expectations to keep them safe are daunting tasks, but critically important.

Check out these practical suggestions for being a positive influence in your kids lives. (The first letter of each point forms the word "DELAY.")

1. Discuss the issues. Kids want to hear about alcohol from their parents. They trust you and rely on you for information and advice. Keep the lines of communication open. Not everyone drinks. They think of it as a social benefit, but encourage them to know that they can fit in without drinking.

2. Educate by example. Talk to them about responsible alcohol use and how you set your own rules and boundaries. Parents who drink and have lenient attitudes about drinking are more likely to have teens who exhibit risky behavior due to alcohol. Make it a point to have alcohol-free events so that everyone can have fun without drinking.

3. Listen and engage. Be aware of your kid's friends and get to know their parents. Set clear expectation about activities and events. Be clear to other parents about your views on alcohol.

4. A good relationship with your teen involves clear and open communication. Parent-child relationships characterized by emotional warmth, support, trust, involvement and attachment are associated with lower levels of alcohol misuse. Be there through the hormonal changes, school committments and peer pressure.

5. Your expectations matter, for your teen and other adult influences. Involve your teen in developing the rules and understanding the importance of them. They may not like the rules you set, but knowing the reason behind them will help.

Dr. Susan Mathison founded Catalyst Medical Center in Fargo and created PositivelyBeautiful.com. Email her at info@catalystmedicalcenter.com.

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