Alcohol and Young People: Alcohol Awareness Month is again underway

Each April since 1987 the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) has sponsored Alcohol Awareness Month, with the expressed aims of increasing public awareness and understanding, reduce stigma, and encourage communities to focus on Alcoholism and alcohol-related issues.

This year of 2016, their theme is “Talk Early, Talk Often: Parents Can Make a Difference in Teen Alcohol Use.”

This month NCADD highlights the most important health issue of underage drinking, a problem with devastating individual, family, and community consequences. The month of April will be filled with local, state, and national events aimed at educating people about treatment and prevention of alcoholism.

Our schools, churches, and many other community organizations will sponsor a host of activities that create awareness and encourage individuals and families to get help for alcohol related problems.

The timing of this most important month of recognition is most apropos, as it precedes the month when our youth begin their summer vacation; a time when the onset of underage drinking and alcohol related problems most emerge. Alcohol Abuse by young people is extremely dangerous — both to themselves and society, and is directly associated with traffic fatalities, violence, suicide, educational failure, alcohol overdose, unsafe sex, and other problem behaviors, even for those who may never develop a dependence or addiction to alcohol.

While contemplating this article during “Spring Break,” I, as well as many millions of other individuals, watched on TV as thousands of college-age students descended on South Padre Island, engaging in almost unimaginable behaviors while under the influence of alcohol. With the national attention of the events, we have come to realize that the abuse of alcohol among our young people is most certainly becoming worse in our society.

Year after year the Bacchanalian orgies that have taken place on the beaches across our nation have led to residents of many cities to proclaim, “enough is enough!” and they have established legislation to ban alcohol consumption on the beach. But we need not go to the beaches of Florida and other states to see this, for the same events unfolded on South Padre Island as well.

It is most assuredly close to home. This lessening of values among our young people strikes at the heart of Mental Health, for good values are part of the building blocks of establishing good mental health; and the abuse of alcohol surely interferes with that.

Alcohol is the number one drug of choice among America’s youth, used by more people than tobacco or illicit drugs; and it is more likely to kill young people than all other illicit drugs combined. Nearly one-third of our youth begin drinking before age 13, even though it is known to them to be a crime to do so; purchase or use of alcohol by persons under the age of 21 is illegal in all 50 states….not to mention that if they do begin drinking ethanol before age 13 then they are more likely to develop Alcoholism than those who begin drinking later in life.

Adolescence, most specifically, is an age of heightened risk taking behaviors and young people may not be fully developed or prepared to anticipate all the consequences of drinking alcohol; such as “chugging” drinks to celebrate a particular occasion, or being in a car with a driver who had been drinking. Yes, underage drinking has most assuredly placed many youth in dire straits, and by the time they enter university the problems become more severe.

Almost 2,000 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each year from alcohol related unintentional injuries, including car accidents. About 600,000 students are unintentionally injured while under the influence of alcohol (we have most certainly seen our share of this during spring break at South Padre Island, haven’t we?). About 700,000 college students are assaulted by other students who have been drinking. About 100,000 students are victims of alcohol related sexual assault or date rape.

And all of this most likely has its impetus before the age of 13!

Statistics aside, the vast majority of us know that alcohol abuse is a major problem in our society; not only among our youth but adults as well. As I have pointed out in previous articles, we really do not need a “Month” to emphasize the problem (although it certainly helps); it should be on our minds throughout the year. It is so important that everyone truly internalize the nature and affects that alcohol use has with our youth, as well as adults, and what the residual effects have on all of us.

We know that reducing underage drinking is most important to having a healthy future for our youth. And that requires a cooperative and collaborative effort from parents, the schools, business leaders, civic and other community organizations, our State and National legislators, government agencies, alcohol brewers and distributors, stores selling alcohol beverage; and of course a clear choice by youth not to commit the crime of drinking until they are of age to do so (and if they chose to do so when of age, to do so responsibly).

I encourage all of you to get involved in alcohol awareness at any level you can, but most importantly parents and/or significant adults. NCADD provides us with 10 tips to help parents: 1) Don’t be afraid to be the an assertive parent… a tough stand can help our children say no. 2) Connect with your children’s friends…pay attention to who your child is hanging out with 3) Make connections with other parents…building mutual support.4) Promote healthy activities. 5) Establish clear family rules about alcohol and drugs. 6) Get educated about alcohol as well as other drugs. 7) Be a role model and set a positive example. 8) Keep track of you child’s activities. 9) Keep track of alcohol and prescription drugs in your home. 10) Get help…if at any point you believe your child may have a problem with alcohol or other drugs.

Now I do not purport to having all the answers, but I do know that there is less chances that children will begin abusing alcohol or other drugs, should parents and other adults put these tips into practice; when they truly become involved…when they become a part of the solution. For further, more detailed information, I refer you to the NCADD website, and to my book “More Straight Talk: Answers to Questions Young People Ask About Alcohol,” currently in its 3rd edition, available through Amazon, Barnes and Nobel, and other book sellers. Until next time, Stay Healthy my Friends!