This April marks the 32nd annual observance of Alcohol Awareness Month in Washington State and throughout the rest of the country. Since 1987, every April is set aside for a month-long series of alcohol awareness events offered at every community level – city, county, state, and national. Locally, churches, schools, colleges, and other organizations within the community will be sponsoring various events throughout the month of April.
What Is the Goal of Alcohol Awareness Month 2018?
The goal of Alcohol Awareness Month 2018 is to educate and inform the public about the disease of alcohol addiction. Some of the typical topics covered include:
- What alcoholism IS
- What alcoholism IS NOT
- Reducing the stigma of alcohol addiction
- Who is affected by alcoholism
- The true costs of alcohol abuse
- How to prevent alcohol abuse
- How to treat alcohol abuse, dependence, and alcohol addiction treatment
- How families of alcoholics can get help
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What Is the Theme of Alcohol Awareness Month 2018?
“Many kids these days talk casually about drinking or getting wasted, or binge drinking and blacking out. It’s like mentioning going to a latte stand, as commonplace as snacking on popcorn at a movie. Binge drinking is not only a social custom among youth, it is an epidemic.” ~Chris and Toren Volkmann, From Binge to Blackout: A Mother and Son Struggle with Teen Drinking This year’s theme is “Changing Attitudes: It’s Not a ‘Rite of Passage’”. This is a very apropos theme, because the average age for an adolescent’s first alcohol intoxication is just 12 years old. Of special relevance, 87% of 12th graders say that alcohol is easy to obtain. With that in mind, it is not surprising to learn that underage drinkers account for 11% of all of the alcohol consumed in the United States The adolescent brain does not finish maturing until the early-to-mid-20s. This means that underage drinkers are much more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol. In fact, researchers at the University of California San Francisco discovered that from the very first lifetime exposure, alcohol can trigger memory and behavioral changes that can drive future drinking.
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Underage Drinking Statistics
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that alcohol is the most commonly-abused intoxicating substance among American young people. Within the past 30 days:
- 1 out of 3 US high school students have consumed alcohol.
- Nearly 1 in 5 have engaged in risky binge-drinking.
- Greater than 1 in 12 drove after drinking.
- 1 in 5 accepted a ride from another driver who had been drinking.
- Annually, more than 4300 underage Americans die because of excessive drinking.
- Every year, alcohol is involved in over 189,000 ER visits by US adolescents and teens.
Similarly, the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that roughly 1 in 7 youths between the ages of 12 and 20 admitted to binge drinking within the past month. Finally, the 2017 Monitoring the Future Survey reports the following underage drinking behaviors:
- 8th grade:
- 8% admitted to drinking alcohol within the last 30 days, and
- 4% engaged in binge-drinking.
- 10th grade:
- 20% reported past-month use, while
- 10% binge-drank.
- 12th grade:
- 33% consumed alcohol within the past month, and
- 17% admitted to binge-drinking.
In 2010 alone, the economic impact of underage drinking was estimated at $24 BILLION.
What Are Some of the Dangers of Underage Drinking?
The CDC says that youths who start drinking before they turn 15 are six times more likely to become dependent on or addicted to alcohol than those who wait until legal age or later. Approximately 600,000 adolescents and teens currently meet the criteria for an Alcohol Use Disorder. In addition, underage drinkers are at elevated risk of:
- School problems – poor academic performance, more absences, etc.
- Social difficulty – fighting, social withdrawal, lack of participation in positive activities
- Legal issues – DUIs, public intoxication charges, assault, property damage, etc.
- Accidents and injuries – falls, drunk-driving crashes, fires, drowning, etc.
- Physical issues – alcohol contributes to over 200 illnesses and conditions
- Risky sexual behaviors – unsafe sex, STDs, HIV/AIDS, promiscuity, unplanned pregnancies, etc.
- Physical and/or sexual assault – as either perpetrator or victim. For example, 80% of all sexual assaults involve alcohol.
- Homicide – 48% of offenders are under the influence of alcohol at the time of the crime
- Suicide – Alcohol abuse in the greatest predictor for suicide risk.
- Long-term brain damage
What Are Some of the Warning Signs of Teenage Alcohol Abuse?
“Alcohol and drug use is a very risky business for young people, and parents can make a difference. The longer children delay drinking and drug use, the less likely they are to develop any problems associated with it. That’s why it is so important to help your child connect the dots and make smart decisions about alcohol and drugs.” ~ Andrew Pucher, President/CEO, National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Responsible parents understand that EVERY teenager is at risk for substance use and abuse. Warning signs include:
- Uncharacteristically poor grades, especially if the change is abrupt
- Poor attendance/skipping school
- Quitting extracurricular activities such as sports or clubs
- Decreased motivation
- Unexplained mood swings
- New friends, especially “bad influences”
- Secretive behavior – spending long periods of time locked in their room, delays in answering calls and texts, over-insistence on “privacy”, defensiveness
- Unaccounted time and unknown whereabouts
- Drastic changes in appearance
- Missing money and/or valuable from your purse, wallet, or from the home
- Physical evidence – empty beer, liquor, or wine bottles
- Witnessing them impaired or drunk
It All Starts on Alcohol-Free Weekend
“The most protective strategy for parents is to make it really clear to their teens that they completely disapprove of underage alcohol use.” ~ Caitlin Abar, Pennsylvania State University Alcohol Awareness Month 2018 kicks off, appropriately enough, with Alcohol-Free Weekend, scheduled this year for March 30 through April 1. During this three-day weekend, people throughout Washington State and the rest of the United States are asked to voluntarily refrain from drinking any alcohol. Why is this so important?
- It raises awareness when you publicly and privately stop drinking for a good cause.
- It invites dialogue when people ask you WHY you are abstaining.
- It is the perfect segue that allows you to open a conversation with your children about drinking:
- Your expectations
- The real risks and consequences
- Responsible drinking
- Their opinions and questions
- You can make a point of demonstrating to your adolescent or teenager – and yourself – that you don’t NEED alcohol to have fun.
- You can identify potential problems. For example, if you or someone you care about are finding it overly-difficult to voluntarily abstain from drinking for such a short period of time, it may be time to take a closer look at your drinking habits and to reevaluate your relationship with alcohol.
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The Bottom Line about Alcohol Awareness Month 2018
“Alcoholism is an addiction – it’s just one type of addiction. When you break out the specific things that someone who is suffering from alcoholism contends with…they are no different from any other type of addict.” ~ Dr. John Sharp, Harvard and UCLA medical schools Even though Alcohol Awareness Month should be an educational and thought-provoking observance for everyone, this year’s focus on preventing underage drinking is perfectly on-target. With the increasingly-loosening public attitude about legalizing recreational marijuana, some parents may be tempted to likewise minimize the dangers of teenage alcohol use. But underage drinking use IS a big deal, specifically because adolescents and teenagers are affected by alcohol to a far greater degree than adults. Far too often, “experimenting” is a slippery slope that leads to regular use. And missteps now could lead to problems with alcohol later, including alcohol abuse, dependence, and eventually, addiction – a lifelong, incurable illness. And no matter how awkward or uncomfortable you may feel about discussing substance abuse with your teenager, the facts of the matter are that they WANT to know more from you and talking DOES work.
- Just 1 out of every 4 teenagers feels that they are getting enough guidance from their parents about why and how to avoid using alcohol and drugs.
- Only 26% of teenagers whose parents talk to them “a lot” about substance use end up trying intoxicants.
- 33% of those who talk about it “a little” experiment with drugs and alcohol.
- But 46% of those whose parents say “nothing” go on to drink and use.
Obviously, Alcohol Awareness Month is the perfect time to open up a two-way dialogue.