Alcohol is the most commonly used drug among youth, and exceeds the use of tobacco and other illegal drugs. Nearly 40 percent of Georgia youths ages 9-21 have experimented with alcohol. Thirty-two percent of middle-school students and 68 percent of high-school students report having one or more alcoholic drinks by the time they are 13.
This statistic is alarming because, when compared to those who start drinking later in life, youth who start drinking earlier are more likely to be dependent on or abuse alcohol. Excessive alcohol use among youth is associated with brain damage, intellectual impairment and memory problems. Nearly everyone knows someone whose life has been permanently altered by alcohol.
Alcohol is considered a gateway drug for youth and can lead to an array of other health and social problems. Use of alcohol is associated with an increased risk of abusing other substances, violence, fighting, crimes, unintentional firearm injuries, drowning, mental-health illnesses and fatal traffic accidents. Acute abuse of alcohol can lead to alcohol poisoning or death.
THE RATES OF underage drinking – alcohol use by people younger than 21 – and the rate of binge drinking – a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration to .08 grams or above – has remained unchanged, according to recent reports. Several studies indicate the rate of these occurrences is on the increase. Across Richmond and Columbia counties, there are 1,373 DUIs per year – nearly four DUIs per day.
Long-term risks of alcohol abuse are common, and include strokes, heart attacks, hypertension, liver disease and cancer. Excessive alcohol use is the third-leading lifestyle-related cause of death in the United States, and is costly to our state and community in many ways, including medical costs; work loss; pain and suffering; fatalities; violence; high-risk sexual behaviors; poisonings; fetal alcohol syndrome among newborns of 15-20-year-olds; and property crimes.
In 2007, the cost of underage drinking for the citizens of Georgia was $1.7 billion, averaging approximately $1,790 per year for each youth. Georgia has the eighth-highest cost per youth of underage drinking in the United States.
IT’S TIME FOR our state and our community to think twice about alcohol use and abuse, and develop effective strategies to confront the early onset of alcohol use. We must reduce access to alcohol and binge drinking among our 9-to-20-year-olds, and reduce binge and heavy drinking among our 18-to-25-year-olds. Adverse effects and preventable causes of disability and death need to be thwarted with appropriate action. Our youth deserve better.
We need to equip them to make better choices through education and effective role modeling at an early age and throughout their teen years. Other potential solutions include being more fervent in efforts to not sell, buy for, or give alcohol to someone who is underage. Also, it is important to limit access to alcohol that you keep at home, given 88 percent of high-schoolers obtain alcohol from their own homes or someone else’s home.
UNDERAGE DRINKING is against the law, and we need to take a stand for our health and safety related to alcohol awareness and prevention. There are far too many injuries and deaths that can be prevented by stopping underage drinking and binge drinking. To learn more, go to www.thinktwicega.com.
Get involved by joining us at a town-hall meeting on Tuesday to begin a conversation about steps we can take to prevent underage drinking in our community. The event will be at 6 p.m. at the Augusta-Richmond County Public Library, 832 Telfair St. Your participation is essential if we are to make meaningful changes in the lives of our youth. At the meeting, dinner will be catered by Chef Redds Café of Fort Gordon for the first 250 attendees. Be there at 5:30 p.m. to make sure you get a seat.
SUPERIOR COURT Judge J. Wade Padgett and Chris Sandy, of Enduring Regret, Atlanta, are keynote speakers, and Andrew Balas, founding director of the Georgia Health Sciences University Institute for Public and Preventive Health, will bring greetings. Jay Jefferies, meteorologist for TV station WAGT (Channel 26), will emcee the event.
The town hall is a collaborative community effort of Georgia Health Sciences University through a contract from the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, Division of Addictive Diseases/Office of Prevention Services and Programs; the GHSU Institute of Public and Preventive Health; the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; and Columbia County Community Connections. At the end of the meeting, school supplies will be distributed. All ages are welcome, and we hope to see you there!
(The authors are, respectively, professor at the Georgia Prevention Center and Institute of Public and Preventive Health Institute, the Charles W. Linder Endowed Chair in Pediatrics and co-director of Child Health Discovery, Medical College of Georgia, Georgia Health Sciences University; the executive director of Columbia County Community Connections; a research assistant at the Georgia Prevention Center, Department of Pediatrics and Institute of Public and Preventive Health, Medical College of Georgia, Georgia Health Sciences University; and a medical student at the Medical College of Georgia and research assistant at the Georgia Prevention Center, Department of Pediatrics and Institute of Public and Preventive Health, Georgia Health Sciences University.)