LARSON: Guiding adolescents away from alcohol

Mahuli Jakubek is known as Director, Collaboration and Environmental Strategies for GUIDE Inc. (Gwinnett United in Drug Education).

That’s a pretty big title, but Jakubek has a pretty big job.

“My main focus right now is to prevent underage use and abuse of alcohol in Gwinnett County. We are working on heightening the awareness of the impact of alcohol on the teenage brains. When some parents choose to provide alcohol and/or allow it in their home for their teens and their friends, they do not realize that research shows that these teens drink more often when they are out of the house, that they have more alcohol related problems such as fights and that they are more likely to be involved in more risky behaviors, such as skipping classes, driving after drinking and/or riding with friends who have been drinking,” Jakubek said. “We know that parents want to protect their teens and give them every possible opportunity to succeed, and we are working very hard to help them understand that alcohol impacts the teen’s learning and memory and the risk behaviors could have very serious consequences.”

Alcohol is the number one drug of choice for teens. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol use by persons under age 21 kills more youth than all illegal drugs combined. In 2010 underage drinking cost Georgia taxpayers over $1.4 billion in medical expenses and lost wages. Unfortunately, 30 percent of teens say they get the alcohol from their parents or other adults.

Many parents don’t realize that the brain doesn’t mature until age 23-25. When teens and young adults drink, alcohol use interrupts normal brain “wiring” by slowing down brain activity and development. The brain hippocampus, responsible for learning and memory, can be 10 percent smaller and alcohol interferes with storing new information as memories. The decision-making part of the brain is the last to develop, which is why youth generally don’t make the best decisions in high risk situations. Drinking impairs their judgment even more, putting them at a higher risk for accidents, depression, suicide, sexual assault and other substance abuse

To help educate the public on this issue, Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlotte Nash has proclaimed April Alcohol Awareness Month. She concludes her Resolution of Recognition with, “We are grateful to the organizations in this county that are committed to raising awareness and increasing support for underage drinking prevention. “

And GUIDE is committed to leading the way, providing guidance and information on their Website SaveBrains.org. But GUIDE Inc. also works with teens, encouraging them to educate their peers. The Helping Others Organize Kreative Everyday Differences Teen Club (HOOKED) is hosting a 5K and Fun Run on April 26 at Tribble Mill Park in Lawrenceville with proceeds going to the Teen Institute through GUIDE Inc. and the HOOKED Teen Club. For information on sponsorship or registration, visit http://tinyurl.com/lejbxoj or call 678-277-0900.

Susan Larson is a writer from Lilburn. Email her at susanlarson79@gmail.com.