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Column: Join Fight Against Alcohol and Substance Abuse

Spring has finally arrived and the school year is entering its last few months. High school seniors around the country are already looking forward to prom and the final summer before starting college or a career. At graduation parents and teachers will speak of the bright future awaiting these seniors and the wonderful experiences and opportunities that lie ahead.

Unfortunately, our youth are not invincible nor are they resistant to the harsh realities of the world. Alcohol abuse is a very real and serious problem at T.C. Williams High School, especially around graduation time.

According to the most recent Alexandria Youth Risk Behavior Survey:

  • 30 percent of all 9th-12th graders reported drinking alcohol in the past 30 days,

  • 40 percent of 12th graders said they had consumed alcohol in the last 30 days.

  • 15 percent of T.C. students have engaged in binge drinking (5 or more drinks in a row in a couple of hours).

According to the National Institutes of Health, underage alcohol use is more likely to kill young people than all other illegal drugs combined. Alcohol plays a contributing role in two of the three leading causes of death among youth ages 15 to 20.

Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among these youth ages. This is due to the fact that adolescents have less experience driving but also because they are more susceptible than older drivers to the influences of alcohol. The fatality rate among alcohol-related crashes involving adolescents aged 16 to 20 years old is more than twice the rate for drivers over age 20.

I, Cassie, know only too well what happens when you combine alcohol with driving. On Christmas morning in 2008 my cousins were in the car with their parents on their way to my great grandmother’s house to get their presents. That morning there happened to be a drunk driver in a semi-truck. His truck hit their car. My oldest cousin was killed in the crash and his younger brother is scarred because of the accident; he turned to his oldest brother after he had woken up and before the medics had pulled him out of the car he saw his older brother sitting next to him had died due to some metal which had come loose in the crash. My younger cousin was 6 years old at the time. No person should ever be able to drink and be so irresponsible as to kill a 12-year-old child and scar a 6-year-old because they chose to drink and drive.

During the transition from childhood to adulthood, significant changes occur in the body, including essential developments in the neural networks of the brain. During the conformist years of adolescence, new situations often pressure youth to consume alcohol.

Exposing the brain to alcohol during this period will interrupt key processes of the still developing brain, leading to cognitive impairment as well as to further risk of adult alcohol dependency. Teenagers who abuse alcohol are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependencies in adulthood. Even seemingly insignificant amounts of alcohol can seriously impede academic and career potential.

The Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition (SAPCA) has supported a number of measures to address teen alcohol use. As April is Alcohol Awareness Month, the SAPCA Club we founded at T.C. Williams hopes to raise awareness of the serious implications of alcohol use by launching its Alcohol Prevention Campaign at the high school with special activities during lunch time.

In addition, annually, SAPCA organizes project “Sticker Shock” in Alexandria, where teams of volunteers place “STOP” stickers throughout Alexandria stores, reminding customers of the consequences of purchasing alcohol for minors.

In 2011, SAPCA campaigned for stronger language in Virginia’s Social Host Law which made it a Class 1 misdemeanor to provide alcohol to minors. With the help of SAPCA and Del. Charniele Herring, the new language increases adult liability by changing the knowledge requirement from “knowing” the drinker is under 21 to “having reason to know the drinker is under 21.”

Alcohol abuse is a very real epidemic in our community. It is imperative that all Alexandrians join SAPCA in taking a stand against underage substance use and abuse and help all members of the graduating class of 2013 to realize their bright futures.