Kayla Glover

April is National Alcohol Awareness Month, with the focus being on underage drinking.

Many people do not refer to alcohol as a drug, however, it most certainly is a drug — a very addictive one. Alcohol is the most widely used substance of abuse among America’s youth. The statistics related to underage drinking are astounding.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports in 2015, 7.7 million young people ages 12-20 reported that they drank alcohol beyond “just a few sips” in a one month period. Research has shown that by the age of 15, about 33 percent of teens have had at least one alcoholic drink and by the age of 18, about 60 percent of teens have had at least one alcoholic drink.

In a social media and technology saturated world, kids and teens view inappropriate advertisements multiple times a day, and of these advertisements, many of them relate to alcohol of some sort. Advertisements have increased by 400 percent in the last 40 years, and thanks to social media influence, these ads are now able to reach just about all age groups.

Did you know that research has shown people age 12-20 drink 11 percent of all alcohol consumed in the United States? Let that soak in. Quick reminder, the legal drinking age in all states is 21.

Although youth drink alcohol less often than adults, when they do drink, they drink more. This is because young people (under age 21) who drink consume more than 90 percent of their alcohol by binge drinking.

Sadly, middle school and high school students lack essential knowledge about alcohol and its effects. Many young people are unsure of the legal drinking age, do not understand the intoxicating effects of alcohol, and do not know a person can die from overdose of alcohol.

Alcohol has many effects on the body. Alcohol impairs judgement and can lead to poor decisions about engaging in risky behavior, including drinking and driving, sexual activity (unprotected sex), and aggressive or violent behavior. Underage youth who partake in drinking alcohol are more likely to carry out or be the victim of a physical or sexual assault after drinking than others their age who choose to not partake in drinking.

Based on data from 2006-10, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that, on average, alcohol is a factor in the deaths of 4,358 young people under the age of 21 each year. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among American teens, and many of these crashes are influenced by alcohol. One in five teen drivers involved in fatal motor vehicle accidents have alcohol in their system.

While the issue of underage drinking is a complex problem, one that can only be solved through a sustained and cooperative effort between parents, schools, community leaders and the children themselves, there are three areas which have proven to be effective in prevention of underage drinking: curtailing the availability of alcohol, consistent enforcement of existing laws and regulations and changing cultural misconceptions and behaviors through education.

Here is a list of things parents can do to help stop underage drinking.

• Teach your child that drinking can be risky and dangerous for health and to intervene when they see that their classmates are in trouble.

• If your child is of the legal drinking age (21), explain to them how to drink alcohol moderately (no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women) and appropriately (as a complement to a meal and at social gatherings) — not to get drunk.

• If you drink alcohol, be sure to set an ongoing healthy example regarding adult alcohol use and never brag about your use of alcohol.

• When helping your children to select an appropriate college, be willing to question officials about campus policies regarding alcohol. The Best Colleges, an annual guide published by The Princeton Review, groups schools by categories, such as “Lots of beer,” “Lots of hard liquor,” “Lots of Greek Life,” “Scotch and soda, hold the scotch,” etc., that provide useful information.

Let’s all wake up to this problem, work together and get started on the solution to stop underage drinking in Henry County, Tenn. We can’t afford to wait any longer. For questions or comments, please contact your child’s school nurse or call 644-3916.

KAYLA GLOVER is a registered nurse, the Henry County School System’s family and community coordinator and nurse at Lakewood School. Her email address is gloverk@henryk12.net.

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