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During the month of April, community-based drug prevention programs across the nation will be promoting Alcohol Awareness Month to increase public awareness and understanding of alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

This year’s theme is “Connecting the Dots: Opportunities for Recovery.” While some parents and guardians may feel relieved that their teen is “only” drinking, it is important to remember that alcohol is a powerful, mood-altering drug. Whatever it is that leads adolescents to begin drinking, once they start they face a number of potential health and safety risks. Young people who drink are more likely to be sexually active and to have unsafe, unprotected sex; are more likely to be involved in a fight, commit violent crimes, fail at school, use other drugs, and experience verbal, physical, or sexual violence.

And those who start drinking before age 15 are five times more likely to develop alcoholism later in life than those who begin drinking at age 21. Research shows that brain development continues well into a person’s 20s. Alcohol can affect this development, causing youth to make irresponsible decisions, encounter memory lapses, or process and send neural impulses more slowly. Underage drinking is a complex problem, requiring cooperation at all levels of society. Four basic approaches have proven to be effective in prevention of the problem: changing cultural misconceptions and behaviors about alcohol use through education; curtailing the availability of alcohol to young people under age 21; consistent enforcement of existing laws and regulations regarding alcohol purchase; expanded access to treatment and recovery support services for adolescents and their families.

The message is clear: Alcohol use is very risky business for young people. And the longer children delay alcohol use, the less likely they are to develop any problems associated with it. 

Rick Gale


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