No other substance is more widely used and abused by America’s youth than alcohol, making alcoholism and alcohol-related problems the number one public health problem in the United States according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD).
According to the 2015 PA Youth Survey, 44.4% of Bucks County students reported they used alcohol at least once (average of 6th, 8th, 10th and 12th grade students). For 12th grade alone, this percentage of lifetime use increases sharply to 77.99%. The survey also documents that our youth have easy access to alcohol and that they start drinking at a younger age on average than their peers statewide. Researchers from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that people who started drinking before age 15 were 50% more likely to become alcohol dependent adults than those who waited until after 21. Drinking at such a young age potentially risks “priming” the brain for addiction to alcohol and other substances. Brain chemistry changes over time with regular use of alcohol and other addictive substances, risking a lifetime with addiction that could have been prevented.
It is important to connect the dots between awareness of the effects of early alcohol use and recovery from underage alcohol and drug misuse, and the first step is Prevention. Fostering healthy and responsible attitudes; talking openly and honestly; encouraging supportive relationships; and showing children that their opinions and decisions matter are all ways to help prevent alcohol and drug use. (National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc.).
It can be challenging to develop the communication skills needed to talk with your children about drinking and drugs, but it will be well worth the effort that you put into it. Encouraging open dialogue helps you to get to know your children a little better and helps them build the coping skills they need to handle the strong emotions, stress, peer pressure, loneliness, and disappointments that are part of being an adolescent. Again, research shows that children whose parents talk to their teens about the dangers of alcohol and drugs, family history of addiction, and who set healthy standards and expectations are half as likely to misuse or abuse these substances. (National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism).
In this season of picnics and parties, keep the health of our youth in mind by not serving alcohol to minors and always monitor where alcohol is stored or served. Remember, one celebratory event could lead to a lifetime of heartbreak.
For information about where to turn for help with drug and alcohol issues in Bucks County, call the Bucks County Drug & Alcohol Commission, Inc. at 215-773-9313, M-F 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. or Call Toll Free 24 Hours, PA GET HELP NOW, 1-800-662-4357.