No One Ever Starts Out Saying They Want to Be an Alcoholic

I took my son to lunch when he was home from college, and he ordered a beer. I was shocked but then realized he is of legal age.

Hmmm. . . I wasn’t expecting that. It was awkward. I couldn’t say no.

How to talk about responsible alcohol consumption when your kid turns 21

We’ve talked about the risks of using drugs and alcohol since he was little. We rarely have wine in our home. Never beer or hard liquor. So, I assumed he’d be like me. A rarely, occasional or not-at-all drinker. Faulty assumption.

When he ordered a beer, I realized that might be the case or it might not be. Something about it made me feel yucky.

In that malt liquor moment, I realized–after the years of talking about under-aged drinking– I’d never shifted the conversation from restraint to responsibility.

I wasn’t prepared for the moment he could legally buy and drink alcohol. And I hadn’t prepared him for it either.

“Mom fail.” Like sex, I’d rather he find out about it from us than from his friends.

At twenty-one, the drinking conversation stops. Maybe we assume our kids will make the same choices we do. Maybe we figure they’re adults and can decide for themselves.

Either way, I’ve got to stop assuming. If I want him to know something, it’s best to say it.

So like a kid who hadn’t studied for a test, I tried to cram 15 years of responsible drinking thinking into a lunch hour. With Spring Break around the corner, now’s a good time for a refresher course.

[One Mom’s Nightmare Story About Spring Break here.]


People assume people your age will get drunk. It’s an expectation not a mandate.

So don’t ever let other people’s expectations dictate your deeds. Follow your heart, and trust your instincts because you’ll have to answer for your actions.

By the time I was your age, I’d concluded two things: No good ever comes from a bunch of people sitting around getting drunk and losing control of your faculties is never a good idea.

There’s nothing cool about making a fool of yourself, getting a DUI, or waking up in a puddle of your own urine or vomit.

It’s embarrassing.

I’m just not crazy about the idea of you and your friends having a few beers. Maybe it’s because you’re my kid. Maybe it’s because your brain is still developing at 21, and alcohol can affect the way it works for the rest of your life. Maybe it’s because alcohol lowers your inhibitions and makes you more likely to do stupid things.

[Binge Drinking: The Unique Danger to Teenage Brains]

Here’s the thing. You don’t know how it’s going to affect you until you try it. You won’t know what your limit is until you’ve reach it. By that time, it might be too late.

No one ever takes their first drink and says, “I want to be an alcoholic.”

Yet we have millions of alcoholics in this country, some in our own family. So I know there’s a chance that if you party too much, you may no longer be in control.
If you ever think you’ve reached that point, please come to us for help.

Alcohol affects everyone differently. Body weight, metabolism, and genetics all affect how your body processes alcohol. Everyone’s tolerance level is different.

People always say, “Drink in moderation.” Moderation looks totally different for you than it does for me. So, I’m not going to just say “drink responsibly,” I’m going to tell you exactly what I mean.

[In Defense of Tolerating Teen Drinking]

  • Buzzed driving is drunk driving.
  • Drinking responsibly means if you’re drinking don’t drive. Just don’t.
  • Size does matter. Know how much alcohol is in your drink. How many doesn’t tell you how much. If you have two 24 oz beers, you’ve had the equivalent of 4 beers.
  • You can get a DUI even if you’re under the legal limit.
  • All drinks are not created equal. One Long Island Iced Tea is equal to 4 drinks because of its alcohol content. Two Long Island Iced Teas are equal to 8 drinks. Three Long Island Iced Teas. . . Get the picture?
  • Drinking responsibly means don’t get in a car with a driver who’s been drinking. Even if you aren’t drinking, you can get into trouble as a passenger if the driver is intoxicated.
  • Drinking responsibly means calling someone if you need a ride. We’re always a phone call away no matter how old you are or how far away.
  • Drinking responsibly means taking ownership for whatever you do while you’re drinking. Being under the influence of anything is no excuse or defense for taking advantage of someone or standing by while someone else does. You still know the difference in right and wrong. And you still understand English. “No” means “no” whether you’re drunk or not
  • Drinking responsibly means maintaining your sense of honor. Never look the other way when someone’s in trouble, especially a woman. Even if she’s had too much to drink, still consider yourself responsible.
  • Drinking responsibly means thinking all possible scenarios through to the end before you take that first drink. Are you in mixed company? Are you responsible for someone? Are you aware of any firearms on the premises? Do you have a reliable way to get home? At what point are you going to say “enough?”
  • Being responsible means you don’t purchase alcohol for under-aged kids. It’s against the law. You’ll be held responsible for any action any under-aged person takes while they’re under the influence of the alcohol you gave them.

There it is in black and white because we love you. Your dad and I never had to be drunk to have fun. And you don’t either. We’ll never condone bad behavior, and we’ll never sit by while you engage in life-threatening behaviors, no matter how old you are.

At your age, no one’s probably going to call us about your bad choices except the police. And if they’re calling that means one of two things–either you can’t call or you’ll never call again. We’ve taught you well but know you’re going to make mistakes.  Just like with faith and everything else of significance in your life, we don’t ever want you to say, “I didn’t know.”




The Letter I Wrote to My Teenage Son About Drinking

Underage Drinking: When You Find Out Your Kid Hosted the Party

I Want My 20 Year Old to Know These Life Lessons

About Sheila Qualls

Former journalist turned SAHM Sheila Qualls blogs to encourage, entertain and educate wives and mommas through a window of humor and transparency. She shares her life’s lessons collected over 30 years of marriage, 5 kids, home schooling, 10 corporate moves, two dogs and a ferret. (May they rest in peace.) Her life is real. Sometimes it’s not pretty, but it’s always honest. After having kids, she’s learned to look at the world from a less serious perspective. She and her family live in Minnesota. Three of her five children are now in college. You can find Sheila at The Not So Excellent Wife

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