From Our Team
Posted on July 6, 2015 by Jana Renner
As the parent of a child transitioning to high school, I am both excited and holding my breath about the next four years. One of my primary concerns is alcohol – by far the most commonly used and abused substance among adolescents in the United States. Underage drinking has declined slightly over the past few years; however, 4300 young people under 21 are still losing their lives every year in this country because of alcohol use, and many more compromise their futures.
Most alarming is the fact that many adolescents are extreme binge drinking (10 or more drinks in one occasion). Underage and excessive drinking come with high risks and consequences, including but not limited to unplanned sexual activity, sexual assault, fights, unintentional and intentional injuries, and problems with school. Some consequences, such as drinking-driving crashes, can affect friends of the underage drinker or others in the community. Underage drinking affects us all. It is a community problem.
The good news is a diverse group of concerned individuals has come together to learn more about underage drinking in our community and to identify and implement effective community strategies to reduce the individual and community harms associated with it. Part of a new alcohol prevention initiative called Shift+, the group has collected data and interviewed parents, young people, and community members.
We’ve learned that young people in El Paso often drink at house parties in other people’s homes. This is consistent with findings in many communities across the state and nation. In fact, 63% of Texas middle school and high school students who drink report getting alcohol at home parties. Locally, more than half of El Paso high school seniors say that alcohol is at most or all of the parties that they attend.
House parties, whether supervised by an adult or not, are settings for high risk drinking behaviors and associated consequences. When asked about the consequences of El Paso house parties, young adults report increased likelihood of fights, car crashes, sexual assault, and illegal drug use. Parties can also be “training grounds” where young drinkers are exposed to heavier drinkers, accelerating their progression towards heavy use themselves.
Fortunately, there are strategies that communities can adopt to prevent and reduce underage drinking parties and their consequences. Many communities across the country have implemented local “social host” laws that fine those who allow their homes to be settings for these high-risk parties. These laws provide law enforcement with another tool to hold accountable those who are providing alcohol to young people.
Over time, communities that have social host laws have seen a decrease in police calls for service for home parties, as well as reductions in high-risk drinking and related consequences among youth. Many parents like these laws because they do not have to worry that their children are drinking at the homes of others. I know that I am not comfortable with other parents making the decision that my child can drink in their homes. Like laws against speeding, they set a standard to which everyone is expected to adhere, and which keeps everyone safer.
Shift+ is actively engaged in assessing these and other evidence-based strategies that will improve the health and well-being of El Paso youth. We want to help all the parents in El Paso breathe a little easier. Look for more to come in the near future.
If you are interested in reducing underage drinking in our community, call Holly Mata, Shift+ Alcohol Prevention Initiative Coordinator at the YMCA at 915-532-9622.
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