Alcohol Awareness Month targets underage drinking

For more than 17 years, The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD*) has been sponsoring National Alcohol Awareness Month, which encourages local communities to focus on alcoholism and alcohol-related issues. This year’s focus is on underage drinking with the theme “Save a Life, End Underage Drinking.”

Alcohol is the most frequently used drug by high school seniors, and its use is increasing. Despite the legal drinking age of 21, high school students still consume 31 million gallons of wine coolers and 102 million gallons of beer each year. Young people begin drinking, on average, at age 13.1 years old.

Underage drinking is a factor in nearly half of all teen automobile crashes and contributes to youth suicide, homicides and fatal injuries. Additionally, alcohol abuse is linked to as many as two-thirds of all sexual assaults and date rapes of teens and college students and is a major factor in unprotected sex among youth, increasing their risk of contracting HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases.

Sadly, however, high school students lack essential knowledge about alcohol and its effects. Alcohol is a drug that can affect judgment, coordination and long-term health. Nationwide, an estimated one-third of students don’t understand the intoxicating effects of alcohol, and more than 2.6 million students don’t know a person can die from an alcohol overdose. In fact, a 16 year-old is more likely to die from a drinking-related problem than any other cause.

Yet, there are those who would dismiss underage drinking as a “youthful indiscretion,” a “rite of passage” from adolescence into adulthood, with many underage drinkers having had their first drink in their own home. However, research suggests that early use of alcohol by teens may contribute significantly to dependence on alcohol and other drugs later in life. A young person who starts drinking before the age of 15 is four times more likely to develop dependence than those who begin drinking at age 21.

Alcohol is strongly marketed to underage drinkers and associated with many athletic and social events. Nearly two-thirds of teenagers who drink, including those as young as 12 to14, report they can walk into a store and buy their own alcoholic beverages.

Underage drinking is a critical public health issue in America. Yet, there are three areas that have proven to be effective in prevention of underage drinking: curtailing the availability of alcohol, consistent enforcement of existing laws and regulations, and changing norms and behaviors through education. In addition, the alcohol beverage industry has a responsibility to discourage underage drinking and to curtail advertising that appeals to underage youth. (The typical young person in America will see 100,000 beer commercials before they turn 18.)

Underage drinking is a complex problem, a problem that can only be solved through a sustained and cooperative effort between parents, schools, community and industry leaders and the adolescents themselves. Save a life…end underage drinking

For more information, contact Christine Blake, community relations representative at Rosecrance Health Network (815) 391-1000, or visit the website or (*All facts provided by NCADD).

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