Monday Medical: Underage drinking statistics alarming

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— Underage drinking statistics in Routt County are alarming and well above the national averages.

Healthy Kids Colorado Survey 2007-08 reports that in Routt County:

■ 51 percent of high school seniors report heavy alcohol use or binge drinking within the past 30 days. Binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more drinks within a few hours.

■ 54 percent of high school students and 69 percent of seniors report alcohol use within the past 30 days, which is defined as consuming at least one drink of alcohol.

■ 68 percent of high school students in grades nine through 12 report use of alcohol during his/her life, which is defined as consuming at least one drink of alcohol.

■ 89 percent of high school seniors report use of alcohol during his/her life, which is defined as consuming at least one drink of alcohol.

In 2007, underage drinking cost U.S. citizens $68 billion. In addition, alcohol-related injuries from underage alcohol use are a leading cause of death for people younger than 21.

According to a report from the Surgeon General, alcohol is the most widely used substance of abuse among America’s youths.

In recognition of the serious problem of alcohol use and abuse within the U.S. and among young people in particular, April is designated as Alcohol Awareness Month. Grand Futures Prevention Coalition will be increasing its messages about alcohol consumption throughout the month.

Grand Futures is a local nonprofit organization that seeks to engage our community in the creation and promotion of positive, healthy lifestyle choices as alternatives to substance abuse. One of the goals is to ask parents to take an active role in helping to diminish teenage drinking and drug use.

Research shows that youths who begin drinking alcohol before the age of 15 are five times more likely to develop alcohol problems than those who start after age 21. Also, the chances of dependency decrease by 14 percent for each year of delay in the onset of alcohol use.

Use and abuse of alcohol plays a significant role in risky sexual behavior, increasing the risk of physical and sexual assault. It also is associated with academic failure, illicit drug and tobacco use and is the cause of 42 percent of all traffic deaths, or an estimated 17,036 deaths.

In Routt County, our youths are reporting rates of alcohol use that significantly exceed national numbers in nearly every category. It is clear that our community must work together to prevent and reduce alcohol use among youth.

In particular, parents of youths play a crucial role in the prevention of underage alcohol use. Some practical tips to prevent underage alcohol use include:

■ Spend time regularly with your child

■ Talk openly and honestly to your child about issues affecting teens, including alcohol and drug use

■ Be a good role model for your child; refrain from overuse or consumption of alcohol

■ Do not provide alcohol to teens in your home

■ Surround your teen with other positive role models

■ Establish clear expectations and rules for your child’s behavior and check in frequently

■ Respect your teen by providing privacy and space to be an individual and to make choices.

■ Most importantly, love and respect your child. These behaviors can form the foundation of raising healthy and happy young people in our community and preventing underage alcohol use.

More information is available at Yampa Valley Medical Center’s Community Health Resource Center, which will have a special Alcohol Awareness Month display in April. Call Grand Futures Prevention Coalition at 970-879-6188 or visit www.grandfutures.org.

Dervla Lacy is the Routt County director for Grand Futures Prevention Coalition and a certified substance abuse prevention specialist and licensed attorney. Grand Futures Prevention Coalition is an organization that seeks to engage the community in the creation and promotion of positive, healthy lifestyle choices as alternatives to substance abuse in Routt, Moffat and Grand counties.

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