Curbing underage alcohol consumption and access is the target of a state-funded initiative in the Augusta area.
Using a $225,000 grant from the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, Georgia Regents University conducted an extensive community survey on underage drinking, using the results to launch a media campaign and forthcoming educational initiatives.
“We have a major problem in Georgia that many people don’t realize,” said Dr. Martha Tingen, a professor of pediatrics.
Tingen led efforts to survey 2,122 residents in seven ZIP codes in Richmond, Columbia and McDuffie counties. The results revealed that people start drinking at a young age without regard for legal or adverse health consequences, she said.
“A significant percentage of kids in the age 9 to 19 range are experimenting with drinking. They are primarily getting alcohol for the first time in the home, and they think there are very few consequences if they get caught by parents or school officials.”
Alcohol, the most commonly abused drug among youths in the U.S., is responsible for more than 4,700 deaths annually, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
In Georgia, 66 percent of high school students report having drunk alcohol one or more times, and 23 percent drank alcohol for the first time before age 13, according to the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance report.
A media campaign launched last week was a partnership between Georgia Regents University and two other area grant recipients: Columbia County Community Connections, and Family Connection and Communities in Schools of Glascock County.
Five billboards for the “You Booze, You Lose” campaign are displayed across the area. Television and radio announcements are planned.
“Young people think they are invincible or none of this is going to affect them. But it does, and it has huge consequences,” said Julie Miller, the executive director of Columbia County Community Connections.
Miller said the goal of her organization’s $199,000 grant is to prevent early onset of alcohol use in Columbia County, primarily by making it more difficult for young people to get alcohol.
An additional 2,095 surveys were collected from six ZIP codes in Columbia County.
Georgia Regents University is targeting early onset, access to alcohol and binge drinking for ages 9 to 20. The final goal is reducing binge and heavy drinking for ages 18 to 25, Tingen said.
Targeting underage drinking can help prevent adult alcohol abuse, she said.