Bringing awareness to underage drinkingUpon hearing the words “underage drinking,” many people immediately envision 17- and 18-year-old high school students throwing house parties when their parents leave town. The truth is the problem begins much earlier.
By: Regan Carstensen, The Republican Eagle
Upon hearing the words “underage drinking,” many people immediately envision 17- and 18-year-old high school students throwing house parties when their parents leave town. The truth is the problem begins much earlier.
Every day, 7,000 children in the United States younger than age 16 take their first drink, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence reported. In fact, the average age of onset in 2010 was about 13 years old. Still, that’s a slight improvement from what it was years prior.
“We know that we’re going in a positive direction, but we also know it’s a big ship to turn,” Goodhue County Chemical Health Initiative education prevention director Julie Hatch said.
Since 2004, Goodhue County CHI has been working to reduce substance abuse in both youths and adults. Through countywide surveys, youth focus groups and other data collection methods, Hatch has been able to meet directly with students in a variety of school districts and it seems that underage drinking trends have gone down just as CHI hoped.
“Overall the kids are saying that the use has decreased quite a bit just in the last couple of years, so it’s good that they’re seeing it, too,” Hatch said. “However, that’s not to say that we still don’t have underage drinking going on.”
Within the last year, CHI helped put a social host ordinance in place in several local communities as well as all rural parts of Goodhue County. The ordinance holds hosts responsible for any underage drinking on their property, even if they weren’t the ones to provide the alcohol to minors. Providers are, of course, also at fault.
“If we have a beer party. we make more of a conservative effort to find out who provided the alcohol and get them criminally charged,” Goodhue County Sheriff Scott McNurlin said.
The amount of underage drinking seems to vary with every generation, McNurlin added, but this is the time of year it usually picks up.
“It’s kind of almost seasonal in the sense that when the weather gets nice and kids get closer to being out of school we see more beer parties and house parties,” he explained.
For that reason precisely, Alcohol Awareness Month comes at the perfect time. During April, the NCADD aims to increase public understanding and decrease alcohol-related issues as part of Alcohol Awareness Month. This year specifically, the theme it will follow focuses on preventing underage drinking.
“We need to wake up to the problem of underage drinking and recognize the reality that for some, alcoholism and addiction develop at a young age and that intervention, treatment and recovery support are essential for them and their families,” NCADD president Robert Lindsey said.
While the entire month is used to highlight the issue, this coming weekend in particular is one that NCADD tries to make alcohol-free. Parents are invited to put down their drinks from April 6-8 and use that time to learn more about alcoholism and its early symptoms, all while educating their children about the problems, too.
In her discussions at different schools, Hatch said many kids actually want to discuss alcohol with their parents but feel they can’t approach them without already looking guilty of drinking.
“Just because your kids are asking about it doesn’t mean they’re using it,” Hatch said.