GUIDE offers alcohol awareness programs

In a recent survey conducted in Gwinnett County schools, 30 percent of high school students reported they get the alcohol they drink from their parents or other adults.

In a way, this shouldn't be surprising. Many parents believe if they let their teens and their friends drink at home, they will be safer than if they were drinking somewhere else. New research, however, makes it clear the damage alcohol does to the adolescent brain is significant. And it occurs whether teens drink at home, at the beach or anywhere.

If you are the parent of a teen, please read on. Before condoning or possibly promoting underage drinking, get the facts and understand the harm caused by adolescent alcohol use. A study published in the July issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine found that people who began drinking in their early teens were more likely to become dependent on alcohol at some point in their lives. In fact, about half met the criteria for alcohol dependence by the time they hit age 21. Forty-seven percent of those who began drinking before age 14 later become dependent on alcohol compared to 9 percent of those who started drinking at age 21 or older.

But wait, there's more. Experts once believed that it took a long period of heavy drinking to injure the brain, but mounting research suggests that alcohol may readily damage the developing brains of teenagers. A recent New York Times article pointed out that binge drinking (five or more drinks on an occasion) may cause cellular damage to the adolescent brain, a possible link between drinking at a young age and the increased risk of becoming an alcoholic. Studies have also shown that young drinkers perform poorly on a variety of cognitive tests. Not only does alcohol impair teens' cognitive functions, it also impairs their impulse control. Just what teens need - less impulse control! As parents and concerned adults, we need to do whatever it takes to reduce these risks. The major key is to reduce underage access to alcohol.

GUIDE (Gwinnett United in Drug Education) Inc., a nonprofit substance abuse prevention agency that has been serving Gwinnett since 1986, has been spearheading an effort to reduce underage alcohol use by reducing access. While an important part of this is reducing the number of retail vendors that sell alcohol to minors, parents remain the most crucial link. Many more teens reported getting alcohol from their parents than from stores and other retail outlets.

This fall, GUIDE will be offering a variety of opportunities for parents who want to help their teens and pre-teens steer clear of alcohol. The Family Matters program provides parents of middle school youth specific activities they can do at home to emphasize the importance of family and making healthy decisions. Too Smart To Start provides strategies to help parents talk to their children about alcohol and other drugs. Another initiative will provide sessions for parents and teens to learn how to plan successful parties that do not include alcohol. A contest will give four families the actual funding to host a teen party.

On Tuesday, the Underage Drinking Prevention Coalition will have a meeting open to the public for anyone who would like to get involved. For more information about meetings and other services to reduce underage alcohol use, call Mille Linville at 678-377-4138 or millie@guideinc.org.

For more information, visit GUIDE's Web site, www.guideinc.org, or call Ari Russell, Executive Director, at 678-377-4132 or ari@guideinc.org.