April is Alcohol Awareness month. Since 1987, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) has sponsored this public awareness campaign. NCADD seeks to encourage local communities to focus on alcoholism and alcohol-related issues through education and activities. This year’s theme is “For the Health of it: Early Education on Alcoholism and Addiction”—focusing on alcohol use and prevention by young people. It is important to highlight this during prom, graduation and summer because this is the peak season for underage drinking.
Underage drinking is extremely dangerous as it poses a threat to the minor, their surroundings, their loved ones and society as a whole. Alcohol use by young people is directly associated with traffic fatalities, violence, suicide, educational failure, alcohol overdose, unsafe sex and other problem behaviors.
The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services sponsors a voluntary survey called Oklahoma Prevention Needs Assessment (OPNA), this is administered through schools to 6th, 8th, 10th and 12th graders every even year. OPNA assesses the who, what, when, where, how and how often regarding substance use among minors. It also captures the environmental factors that contribute to substance use and abuse (i.e. availability of alcohol or drugs in their community, family conflict, community law and norms, academic failure, family attachment, etc). The results from this survey help local prevention agencies, coalitions and decision makers strengthen community strategies to decrease the prevalence of substance abuse in local communities.
In 2014, 6th, 8th, 10th and 12th graders reported mostly getting there alcohol from home with or without parental permission, someone 21 and older or someone under the age of 21. The access of alcohol through “social sources” (i.e. parents, relatives, friends, adults) is a reoccurring issue in which local law enforcement agencies seek to decrease. Oklahoma Social Host law puts a shared responsibility on adults and minors who provide a place for persons under the age of 21 to drink. First offense violators faces fines up to $500, depending on municipality. Repeat offenders face a felony offense and higher fines. If a minor is injured or their death results from alcohol consumption, the social host violator automatically faces felony charges and more.
In OPNA’s 2014 report, percentage of youth in Oklahoma County using alcohol in the past 30 days:
- 12 percent of 6th graders
- 16 percent of 8th graders
- 31 percent of 10th graders
- 42 percent of 12th graders
The bad news: use of alcohol in the past 30 days among 6th graders has steadily increased since 2010. For all other grade levels there has been a decrease in alcohol use compared to 2010 and 2012 OPNA results. It is important for both teens and adults to know the idea that “everyone is doing it” is a myth. The fact that the majority of youth aren’t drinking is good news because this age group is more likely to be binge drinkers than chronic drinkers. Binge drinking is defined as 4 or more drinks for women, 5 or drinks for men within 2 hours. These episodes of high alcohol consumption can lead to memory loss and learning deficiencies as the brain activity slows down.
Binge drinking leads to a lack of judgement because the brain is heavily impaired. The decision to drink and drive or ride with someone who has been drinking and driving drinking and driving or riding with someone who has been drinking. 6th and 10th graders had an increase in riding with some who has been drinking since 2012. 8th graders rates decreased in riding with someone who has been drinking. 12th graders rates decreased in both drinking and driving and riding with someone who has been drinking.
Remember regardless if the hosts provides the alcohol or not, if they “host they stand to lose the most”. If we decrease their social availability, we can decrease the consumption of alcohol among youth, the consequences associated and prevent future use among current non-drinkers. It is illegal to provide a place for a minor to consume alcohol, so let’s help officers enforce the law by reporting any parties with underage attendees or noise disturbances in your neighborhood to the local authorities. If you have suspicion of an adult or minor providing a place to facilitate underage drinking, please call 9-1-1. It takes a village to raise a child. With your help we can and will put a stop to underage drinking in Oklahoma County.