Alcohol Awareness Month

Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
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We know that teens make choices that can affect their lives forever. Too often those choices involve alcohol. On an average day, almost 8,000 adolescents ages 12 to 17 in the United States, drink alcohol for the first time. According to the latest Minnesota Student Survey, almost two thirds of high school seniors in the state report alcohol use in the past year. Thirty-two percent of Minnesotans age 12-20 drank alcohol in the past month according to 2005 and 2006 estimates from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Nationwide 62 percent of eighth-graders and 83 percent of 10th-graders report that alcohol is readily available to them, and 41 percent of 10th-graders have been drunk at least once. Compared with other students, the frequent heavy drinkers have lower grades in school and are more likely to dropout. The statistics go on and on, all pointing to the undeniable fact that underage drinking is alive and well. It is the norm, not the exception. And while April is Alcohol Awareness Month, our young people are aware of alcohol every day. Whether it's the news of a college roommate found dead from alcohol poisoning or the student found drinking on the school bus en route to middle school, we are all aware of the consequences of underage alcohol abuse. Parents can play a powerful role in influencing their children's attitudes. Parents' drinking behaviors and favorable attitudes about drinking are associated with adolescents' initiating and continuing drinking. Research indicates that children are less likely to drink when their parents are engaged in their lives and when they and their parents report feeling close to each other. Adolescents drink less and have fewer alcohol-related problems when their parents discipline them consistently and set clear expectations. Talk early. Talk often. Many times, a parent's denial that their child could be involved with drugs or alcohol prevents them from acting at all. When that happens, the problems only escalate, sometimes with fatal results. Once they develop, problems associated with adolescent alcohol or drug abuse do not typically or magically go away without professional help. Remember that if your child is already using alcohol or other drugs, that does not necessarily make them a "bad" child or you a "bad" parent. Seek a professional assessment for your child to find out exactly what the problem is and how to remedy it. Local addiction-related resources are available to help parents. As a society entrusted to promote health and safety of our young people, what can we do? The national 2001 Youth Access to Alcohol Survey found that 96 percent of Americans are concerned about underage drinking, and the majority support measures that would help reduce teen drinking, such as stricter controls on alcohol sales, advertising, and promotion. Throughout April town hall and community meetings throughout Minnesota and the nation are bringing communities together to help raise awareness about underage drinking and to generate solutions. If you can't participate or there is not one in your community, at least pause to ask yourself these questions: do you know how to discuss alcohol use with your child and where to get information to help you (www.drugfree.org/mn and www.emprc.org); do you know your child's friends? Do they provide positive influences; do you know the extent of drinking by children in your neighborhood and what local organizations are working on the issue; do you know the legal consequences if your child is caught drinking alcohol (if you are caught serving it to minors) For additional information about alcohol abuse and alcoholism see , the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Carol Falkowski, director of chemical health Minnesota Dept. of Human Services