Spring, with its promise of new beginnings, far too often becomes a time of tragedy. Too many youthful lives are snuffed out due to alcohol related accidents, car crashes and violence at prom time and graduation. This heartbreak comes at a time when we, the families and communities of these young people, are celebrating their accomplishments and looking forward to their having long and happy lives. Preventing these unnecessary deaths is everyone’s responsibility. So, I’m asking families to help us in prevention. Help your children understand and then avoid the dangers inherent in alcohol misuse. You are the most powerful influence on your children. Talk to them about the very real problems underage drinking poses. SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) has an online program titled “Talk They Hear You.” It offers tips on how and when to begin a conversation about alcohol. You can find it at www.undertagedrinking.samhsa.gov.
Why does alcohol rank first in popularity with our teens? It’s easy to get even if you aren’t legal. You sometimes don’t have to look farther than your family’s cabinets. Alcohol is part of our culture, part of celebrating. We grow up seeing it used and sometimes abused by the adults around us. Some adults think it’s appropriate for teens to drink at home. It’s part of our entertainment industry, radio, music, movies. Advertising targets young people offering flavored drinks, showing pictures of fun activities and glamorous people. Girls are the target of particularly aggressive campaigns by alcohol companies. Girls are also now using as much alcohol as the boys. Advertising works, but so does having an open dialog with your child.
Let me tell you what I found out by asking the 8th and 9th grade youth here in Greene County a few simple questions about their views on alcohol. Alcohol is not generally perceived as a drug. Its potential to impair judgement and change personality is minimized. Long term deleterious effects on the brain and body are not associated with misuse of alcohol. They’re unsure about the addictive nature of the drug. It’s interesting to note that while an overwhelming majority of students identify tobacco as a serious risk to health, they haven’t the same sense of danger when it comes to alcohol. We need to change these misconceptions. Talk, they listen. Be a role model for responsible alcohol use.
The legal age to purchase and consume alcohol is 21. Yet the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey reports that 14 percent of young people between the ages of 12-20 years consume 11 percent of all the alcohol consumed in the United States. And 6 percent of these teens drove. The survey also found that more than 90 percent of underage consumption is in the form of BINGE drinking. Quick fact check: binge drinking is defined for men as 5 drinks within a 2 hour period; for women it’s 4 drinks within the 2 hour period. Dr. Arron White, Duke University neuroscientist, in his research paper “Rethinking Underage Drinking” shares his conclusion that brain cells die during the hangover stage and in adolescents the distinct possibility exists that this damage may be permanent. That should be enough to stop you cold. The fact is, the teen brain is more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol and teens who use alcohol early risk becoming addicted to alcohol and using other drugs later in life.
Greene County is rated one of New York State’s Counties with the highest rate of alcohol related motor vehicle injuries and deaths per 100,000 population. Alcohol is responsible for one fourth of all fatal car accidents involving teens (MADD). Approximately 4,358 teens lose their lives in drunk driving accidents. STOP and think, Don’t Drink!
Helen M. Exum is the Senior Prevention Educator at Twin County Recovery Services, Inc. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.