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August 14, 2013

GUEST COLUMN: The power of prevention

— We see the images in the courtrooms across our nation — broken people tearfully telling the defendant, judge and jury how their lives have changed after the loss of their child, parent or relative; how the DUI accident has devastated their lives; how the deceased person will never graduate from high school, or walk down the aisle, have children or grandchildren and how unfair it is for one person to live and the other to die.

Or we see the grieving parents of the high school or college student who died of alcohol poisoning when their friends didn’t call for help — due to fear of the consequences. Their child will never become an adult due to ignorance, neglect, immaturity — but most importantly, due to alcohol.

At a press conference earlier this year, Floyd County Prosecutor Keith Henderson kicked off the “Parents Who Host Lose the Most” campaign to send a clear message to parents that social hosting — serving, providing, allowing or buying alcohol for minors — is unhealthy, unsafe and unacceptable. Many of us are unaware of how much of a problem social hosting is in Southern Indiana.

Most teens claim they drink alcohol because they “don’t have anything else to do.” Let’s call it what it really is — the truth of the matter is that most teens drink because they have adult enablers. The adult enablers are parents who believe it is a “rite of passage” or that it is safest for their children and their friends to drink in a home where they are monitored, and simply take the car keys from them.

Adult enablers are parents who simply turn their heads, are too caught up in other things to be aware of what is going on in their home or on their property, or the parents who lack the confidence, knowledge or parenting skills to monitor their teens’ behaviors. The adult enablers are older siblings who buy the alcohol for their younger brother or sister or the adults in the parking lots of liquor stores who buy alcohol for the teens requesting a little help with a third-party transaction.

As responsible adults, it is our job to predict the consequences of teens’ behaviors — because their brains are not able to see around the corners of their lives. Seventeen-hundred young adults die on college campuses each year in the U.S. from alcohol poisoning. The NIAAA states that children who begin drinking before the age of 15 are 50 percent more likely to become addicted as adults.

The NIAAA and NIDA funded a study at the University of Washington which found that children with parents who are permissive about alcohol experienced increased levels of alcohol use and more harmful consequences by ninth grade. Underage drinking kills 6.5 times more youth than all illicit drugs combined. At least 50 percent of crimes committed by those under the age of 21 are linked to alcohol. Alcohol is responsible for more date rapes than any other date rape drug — remember the Steubenville, Ohio, atrocity?

The prefrontal cortex of the brain is in charge of our cognitive functioning — and the abilities for decision-making and moderating our behavior occur there. What is the last part of the brain to develop and when? The prefrontal cortex — at age 25.

If you factor in a forming teen brain under the influence of alcohol when that part of the brain has not matured, you are playing Russian roulette. If you then put that compromised brain behind the steering wheel of a car, disaster awaits.

The current trend with teens is binge drinking. For males, that is five drinks and for females, that is four drinks  within 2 hours. The size of one serving is: 12 ounces for beer, 5 ounces for wine and 1 ounce of distilled spirits.

If a teen is chugging marshmallow flavored vodka, are they worried about how much is too much? When playing beer pong, do they stop drinking at will? When drinking an alcohol energy drink, they don’t pass out before they get into the alcohol poisoning danger zone — they are a wide-awake drunk, and in danger.

The liabilities alone are staggering. If a teen drinks and drives, an accident could ruin their family financially. If a child dies of alcohol poisoning on your property, an expensive lawsuit follows. Parents — just try getting reasonable rates on vehicle or homeowner’s insurance if you’ve been associated with the disasters of teen drinking.

The good news is we do have an arsenal of weapons to prevent such loss. The science of prevention is based on research, data, statistics and what is proven to work. There are powerful, multilevel prevention strategies in place in our community.

Prevention programs are being facilitated in the elementary, middle and high school classrooms in Floyd County. After-school prevention programs are also offered. Indiana University Southeast and Ivy Tech offer an online prevention program to their students. Physicians have received information about early Identification of substance abuse. The Floyd County Sheriff’s Department recently hosted party dispersal training to protect teens from themselves when breaking up a party involving alcohol.

One of these prevention strategies is the “Floyd County parents who host lose the most — don’t be a party to teenage drinking” campaign. It is being used in all 50 states to educate parents. Social hosting laws are being written all over the country to hold the adult enablers responsible — even if parents only have “some knowledge” of alcohol consumption.

As responsible adults of Southern Indiana, we need to spread the word that social hosting is dangerous to our youth and our community, unacceptable and illegal. Our children deserve nothing less.

Please “Like” the Facebook page “Floyd County Indiana parents who host lose the most.” There are tips for parents, PSAs, a parent pledge, links for more resources and more. Parents can network to find other parents who take the pledge to only host alcohol/drug-free parties.

For more information about the prevention strategies or to become more involved in this effort, call Our Place Drug and Alcohol Education Services Inc. at 812-945-3400.

These prevention efforts are funded by the Bureau of Mental Health Promotion and Addiction Prevention, through the Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addiction and Family and Social Services Administration.  

 — Susan Hudson, M.Ed., CPP, program director, Community Based Prevention Programs for Our Place Inc., New Albany

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