Addressing alcohol abuse is cooperative effort

Published 9:18 am Friday, April 17, 2015

Guest Column by Lana Howe

In a society that continually promotes alcohol and drug use at entry level, even here in Freeborn County, the need to provide education on the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse and its effect on children has never been greater. We believe education on this critical threat to the health of our community needs to begin as early as possible in people’s lives. Properly educated, children and youth are much more resistant to these dangers and better able to make healthy choices about substance use.

Alcohol and drug use tends to begin in mid-to-late adolescence, and the earlier the age at which someone starts drinking the greater the risk that he or she will develop alcohol-related problems later in life. Yet a delay in drinking until the age of 21 greatly reduces the risk of developing alcohol-related problems.

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Various factors can contribute to underage drinking, from insecurity to a desire for social acceptance, and while the percentage of teenagers who drink at times, seems like it is slowly declining, the numbers are still quite high. Nearly 30 percent of adolescents report drinking by eighth grade, and 54 percent report being drunk at least once by 12th grade.

Drinking alcohol undoubtedly is a part of American culture, as are conversations between parents and children about its risks and potential benefits. Alcohol’s differing effects and parents’ changing role in their children’s lives as they mature and seek greater independence can make talking about alcohol a challenge and parents may have trouble setting concrete family policies for alcohol use.

Yet, parents are the most effective force in preventing and reducing adolescent risky behaviors and helping youth lead healthier lives. Research shows that kids who learn about the dangers of alcohol and drugs at home are up to 50 percent less likely to use these substances than kids who don’t learn about such dangers from their parents.

Parents influence whether and when adolescents begin drinking as well as how their children drink. Family policies about adolescent drinking in the home and the way parents themselves drink are very important.

With open, respectful communication and explanations of boundaries and expectations, parents can influence their children’s health. This is especially important in young people’s decisions regarding whether and how to drink, decisions that can have lifelong consequences.

This April is Alcohol Awareness Month. Founded and sponsored by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Inc. since 1987, this year’s theme is: “For the Health of It: Early Education on Alcoholism and Addiction.”

Freeborn County Partners In Prevention is celebrating Alcohol Awareness Month to raise public awareness about underage drinking and to reduce the stigma often associated with alcoholism, stigma that prevents millions of individuals and families from seeking help. With your support and involvement we will send a message throughout the state of Minnesota that Freeborn County embraces early education about alcoholism and addiction and wants to provide much-needed support.

No other substance is more widely used and abused by America’s youth than alcohol, making alcoholism and alcohol-related problems the No. 1 public health problem in the United States.

Addressing this issue requires a sustained and cooperative effort between parents, schools, colleges, community leaders and our youth. The widespread prevalence of underage drinking and the negative consequences it creates remain a stubborn and destructive problem despite decades of effort to combat it.

Yet, there are four areas that have proven to be effective in prevention of this problem:

1) Curtailing the availability of alcohol to underage populations;

2) Consistent enforcement of existing laws and regulations regarding alcohol purchase;

3) Changing cultural misconceptions and behaviors about alcohol use through education;

4) Expanded access to treatment and recovery support for adolescents and their families.

But, time is running out. Studies reveal that alcohol consumption by adolescents results in brain damage — possibly permanent — and impairs intellectual development.

So let’s get started. We can’t afford to wait any longer.

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Lana Howe is the facilitator for Freeborn County Partners in Prevention.