Archive for the 'underage drinking' Category

Happy Alcohol Awareness Month

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008

April is Alcohol Awareness Month and organizations across the nation are focusing on alcohol and its many implications for our society. Pertinently, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), a government agency that deals with issues related to alcohol and underage drinking, is hosting a series of 1,600 town hall-style meetings across the country this week and next. These meetings are informal get-togethers whose goal is to bring together people from various roles within a community—parents, teens, law enforcement, educators, elected officials—to discuss and raise awareness of underage drinking.

We encourage you to attend a meeting near you, and to participate in the discussion. [CR] volunteer Beau Weston attended a meeting in Danville, KY where he brought up Choose Responsibility’s concept of alcohol education and licensing. “The drinking license idea was clearly new to most people there,” said Weston, “but only one was set against it, and most were willing to give it a hearing.” Check here for a list of meetings in your state, and find one to attend in your area. Email Grace Kronenberg at [CR] if you have questions about what to say!

Lessons From Frost’s Cabin

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

Drunken acts of vandalism were recently inflicted upon Robert Frost’s historic Vermont farmhouse, prompting questions about the connection between the drinking age and destructive party environments. We strongly believe that what transpired on Frost Lane cannot and should not be connected to the drinking age,  but rather, speaks to the lack of alcohol education and widespread disrespect for law amongst young adults.

In this case, the perpetrators were all under-18 — true minors by every standard marker of adulthood — eroding plausible connections to the drinking age.  However, what the New York Times has coined a “violation of both the law and the spirit” (nice pun!) exemplifies the problematic culture of alcohol permeating youth circles in America. Drinking to excess is often seen as a noble act, and destroying property in the Homer Noble Farm (or dorm hallways, for that matter) an accepted rite of passage.  Young adults need to receive a thorough alcohol education — one that is reality-based, interactive, and can curb unlawful and disrespectful behavior.

In reforming youth attitudes towards the law, there are miles to go before we sleep. But try, we must.

Risky Drinking: Brian’s Story

Thursday, January 10th, 2008

Brian Threet was not a big drinker, but one night of heavy drinking — a seemingly normal event in the life of a college student — was one too many. Brian, a 20-year-old student at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, lost his life to alcohol — not as a result of drinking and driving, but because of excessive alcohol consumption itself. 

 The drinking environment that led to Brian’s tragic death was risky, underground, and unfortunately, all too common in college settings. America’s youth needs to change its attitude towards alcohol, and we need to provide them with the means of doing so.

Lesson Plan: Anti-Binge or Anti-Alcohol?

Thursday, January 3rd, 2008

Two recent New York Times opinion pieces shed light on the relationship between binge drinking and the responsibilities faced by parents and their young adult children. The dangers of binge drinking  are reinforced by Paul Steinberg, who stresses that activity’s significant negative effect on cognition and brain development. Citing research conducted by Fulton T. Crews at the University of North Carolina Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies, Steinberg notes the “diminished capacity for re-learning and maladaptive decision-making” amongst binge-drinking subjects. This research raises red flags as binge drinking practices gain greater prominence on college campuses and youth environments around the country.

The dangers of binge drinking —  not the consumption of a mere beer, but rather, five, ten, or more drinks in a setting — have raised concerns for parents, as well. Michael Winerip provides an account of a parental checkmate — trying to teach his children responsible drinking practices as they inevitably face risky drinking environments, yet understanding that drinking under the age  of 21, though widespread, is illegal. Winerip proves prohibitionist programs such as D.A.R.E to be ineffective and untimely in equipping young adults with the skills to act responsibly.  However, in the face of increasingly high-risk drinking, even those parents who would never think of allowing their children to consume alcohol, are assuming less prohibitionist and more realistic stances. Other parents, who chose to turn a blind eye, have attempted to establish household policies that place harsh punishments on binge drinking offenses, rather than the consumption of a single alcoholic beverage in a controlled environment. Prohibition does not work. Without state-level adjustments in the legal age of alcohol consumption, parents must continue to walk this fine line between guidance and safety, prohibition and binge.

Are you afraid of the Grim Reaper?

Monday, December 3rd, 2007

Effective alcohol education is pragmatic, and stresses safety over scare tactics.  We were intrigued, if not a bit frightened, to learn of the drastic measures taken to scare teenagers into (they think) refraining from alcohol-related activities. Beyond the classroom lessons instructing teens of the dangers of “demon rum,” one company has taken scare tactics to a new level. A costumed “Grim Reaper”removes one student from class every 15 minutes. Next, a police officer reads an obituary that has been written by the “dead” student’s parents. The program also includes a simulated traffic crash, hospital overnight retreat, and — even better — an audio-visualization of every student’s death.

Drunk driving is a problem with which we need to grapple; however, the solution does not rest in scare tactics.  In order to see results, we need to emphasize the need for safety, and encourage moderation, not prohibition.

“Children” will be children

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2007

 We commend Dale Pratt-Wilson for working to curb “underage” drinking. She has devoted her career to keeping alcohol out of the hands of our nation’s youth, and has collaborated with organizations such as Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol-Free in order to curb drinking amongst children aged 9 to 15. We applaud this mission. However,  in today’s The Daily Tar Heel, Ms. Pratt-Wilson unabashedly confuses young adults with children — infantalizing those who, in every other respect, are adults.

The opinion piece cites the work of H. Scott Swartzwelder, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University and member of the Board of Trustees of Choose Responsibility. Swartzwelder proves that the adolescent brain is not fully developed until age 25; however, the researcher himself agrees that 21 is not a magical number. Rather, Legal Age 21 has forced drinking underground and led to excessive, dangerous, and lethal drinking. It has created a culture of pregaming and drinking games, where drunkenness is the goal and alcohol consumption is forced out of safe, communal spaces and into dorm rooms, off-campus houses, and underground locales.

A quick glance at Europe disregards the markedly different historical drinking cultures of its northern and souther countries. History and an extensive body of cross cultural research would suggest that cultural attitudes towards alcohol use play a far more influential role than minimum age in these countries, which have more drinking occasions per month, but boast fewer dangerous, intoxication occasions.

Enforcement is not the answer. For every 1,000 incidences of underage alcohol consumption, only two result in arrest or citation. The cost of  “improved enforcement resources” is exponential and will further drive drinking underground. The fact is, the majority of college-aged students drink — in unsafe environments without adequate education or guidance. Infantile behavior is a product of infantalization. Adults will act like adults when the law is synchronized with reality.

Alcohol and the Family

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007

Binge drinking continues to be a serious health problem in the both the US and the UK and solutions to curb dangerous alcohol consumption are allusive. A study released in the UK earlier this month found that when parents provided alcohol to their children in a family environment, children were less likely to engage in binge drinking and experience negative drinking outcomes. The findings come from a survey of 10,271 15-16 students in North West England published in the online journal Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy.

“Such family consumption,” writes lead researcher Marc Bellis, “may help open up an early dialog about alcohol between parents and children. It allows youths to experiment with alcohol in a family setting with positive parental role models rather than outside the family with pressure from peers to consume to excess.” And it is from this experiential learning that these young adults come to learn responsible drinking practices.

“Higher” Ed.

Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

This past week the Columbia University’s Center for Alcohol and Substance Abuse (CASA), headed by the former Secretary of Health Joseph Califano Jr., released a report on the state of alcohol and drug use on the college level. The full, text can be found here. Though this is not the first CASA report on the subject of college student substance abuse, it does appear, at least by first glance, to be more broadly accepted as legitimate scholarship in the field. The previous study released by CASA caught the attention of several major scholars and media outlets cooking its statistics to inflate the crisis of college drinking. Here’s a brief review of that criticism.

In my initial read of the CASA report titled, Wasting the Best and Brightest, I had very little trouble with their statistics. They are, in short, expected and not substantially different from other sources. In short, CASA reports that close to 50% of college students report abusing alcohol (binge drinking), illicit drugs, or prescription drugs. Previous research (2001) say binge drinking levels are about 40%. The way CASA compiles the all rates of abuse into one figure it is easy to mistake that figure for 25% increase in the rate of binge drinking (from 40 to 50 percent) in the past 5 years. That is definitely not the case. However, I do find it difficult to believe that 10% of the college population abuses illicit or prescription drugs but are not guilty of binge drinking. It’s possible, but rather unlikely. The take away point of all of this? The headlining statistic of their report, may not be as high as they report. It’s not the end of the world but if someone has the time it is definitely worth investigating in greater detail.

The other striking thing about the CASA report is the disconnect between the report itself and the accompanying statement by its director Joe Califano. The report proper is written well, and reflects the staid discussion of findings and recommendations that is expected from a college-funded study. That language is sharply contrasted by the rhetoric of Califano’s opening statement. “Too many [college presidents, deans, and trustees] assume a Pontius Pilate posture, leaving the problem in the hands of the students.” How that caustic attack on college administrators is supposed to solve the problem of abuse on college campuses is lost on this reader. The comparison is foolish, if not impudent.

Surgeon General’s Warning: Underage Drinking is a Problem

Thursday, March 8th, 2007

On Tuesday, following the release of the 2005 SAMHSA survey on alcohol use (see previous blog posting), the acting U.S. Surgeon General, Kenneth Moritsugu issued a “call to action” on underage drinking.

The Call to Action was developed in collaboration with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The plan establishes six clear goals:

1) Facilitate healthy adolescent development that help prevent and reduce underage drinking by fostering societal changes
2) Coordinate a national effort to encourage parents, schools, communities, the government, social systems and youth to prevent and reduce underage drinking and its consequences
3) Promote public education of the relationship between underage alcohol consumption and human development and maturation
4) Support research on adolescent alcohol use and human development
5) Improve public health surveillance on underage drinking and risk factors
6) Apply policies consistently at all levels to prevent and reduce underage alcohol consumption

How this declaration changes the government’s official stance on underage drinking prevention and treatment remains to be seen.

“World’s Largest Cocktail Party” going underground?

Monday, February 26th, 2007

“‘It’s not shocking enough (to keep students from drinking again), but it’s definitely a different kind of experience,’ Short said,” after the freshman at the University of Georgia spent a night in jail for underage drinking. Recent news out of the University of Georgia show that arrests for underage drinking did not decrease this past year following the communities tougher alcohol policies. While administrators of Georgia’s largest university have sought to curtail their image as a party school—famous for the “world’s largest cocktail party”— their policies of stricter enforcement and tougher penalties have had little effect. The idea behind the administration’s push was that if penalties were harsh enough freshman, sophomores, and juniors at UGA would warm up to the fact that for them alcohol is illegal, and that this would make them stop drinking. It failed. This should come as no surprise. When as few as 2 out of every 1000 underage drinkers are ever punished, even large increases in enforcement cannot provide sufficient deterrence for those illegal behaviors. Administrators of the university ought to reassess their draconian policies, because ultimately they only push behavior farther off campus and deeper underground. And while this “out of sight out of mind” mentality is pleasing to the eye, it can do little to improve the drinking culture on campus. Sadly, when it comes to irresponsible drinking it may only be making things worse.