More young people use alcohol than any other drug, including tobacco or marijuana. In fact, a greater proportion of American young people use alcohol than use other drugs or tobacco. This use of alcohol by youth under the legal drinking age of 21 has profound negative consequences, not just for underage drinkers but also for their families, their communities and society as a whole. Despite the modest progress made in recent years, underage drinking remains a serious public health and safety problem.
In 2010, an estimated 10 million 12- to 20-year-olds, or more than one out of every four, reported drinking. Of this number, 17 percent were binge drinkers (consuming five or more drinks at one time in the last two weeks), and 5.1 percent were heavy drinkers (binge drinking on at least five days out of the past month).
Although the peak period of first use of alcohol is in grades 7-10, some 10 percent of children ages 9 and 10 have already started drinking: more than one-fifth of underage drinkers begin before they are 13 years old.
According to the Underage Drinking Enforcement Center, underage drinking contributes to a range of costly health and social problems, including traffic fatalities, suicide, physical and sexual assault, brain impairment, alcohol dependence, academic problems, and alcohol and drug poisoning. During 2009, underage alcohol use contributed to an estimated 1,506 traffic fatalities and 36,963 nonfatal traffic injuries; 1,844 homicides; 949,400 nonfatal violent crimes such as rape, robbery and assault; 1,811,300 property crimes, including burglary, larceny and car theft; 28,161 teen pregnancies; and 937,972 teens having unprotected sex.
Additionally, there is a financial cost to this issue. Underage drinking costs U.S. citizens an estimated $62 billion in 2010 for related medical care, work loss, and associated pain and suffering.
By addressing underage drinking in all of the environments in which our youth live — family, school, communities, healthcare system and religious institutions — together we can change the way that young people view underage drinking, and create an environment in which underage alcohol use is understood as a serious public health and safety problem, not a culturally ingrained rite of passage. Together, we can create the change involving parents and other caregivers, educational systems, the public and private sectors, concerned individuals and organizations throughout the county.
What can we do to prevent or reduce underage drinking in our community? By working together, we can make a difference in the lives of our young people by reaching out and starting the conversation. We must be a parent, not a peer, when it comes to discussing issues such as underage drinking with our children. The GRAAB Coalition (Going Respectively Against Addictive Behaviors) will be offering educational programs to help parents identify when their child may be abusing alcohol, and how to address these issues with them, with a goal of ultimately seeking help if needed.
For parents or caregivers interested in these classes, contact the GRAAB Coalition for dates and times. For information on other GRAAB programming or volunteer opportunities available, call us at 423-472-5800 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit our website for regular updates as well, www.graabcoalition.com.
The mission of the GRAAB Coalition is to bring together concerned members and service providers of the community to facilitate lowering the misuse of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, as well as other addictive behaviors, in Bradley County, by providing effective education, recovery and support for youth, families and the community.
(Editor’s Note: Today’s National Prevention Week “Viewpoint” was written and submitted by Tanya Southerland, executive director of the GRAAB Coalition. Tuesday’s installment will feature “Prevention of prescription drug abuse and illicit drug use.”)