Campaign focuses on curbing teenage alcohol consumption

August 15, 2008

As the Utah Parents Empowered program continues into its second year, the campaign is taking a strong, innovative stance aimed at eliminating underage drinking.

According to the group, surprisingly, a disaproving parent who will spend time with their child is still the best deterrent for stopping the harmful behavior.

In Sept. 2006, Utah became the first state to launch a statewide media campaign to eliminate underage drinking.

Since then, several states have taken notice and demonstrated interest in the campaign, according to a Parents Empowered press release.

Providing events such as a town hall meeting and an “Every 15 Minutes” death scenario, community groups have been focusing on showing just how dangerous underage alcohol consumption can be.

“We just want our kids to know how harmful drinking is at their age, due to the continuing development of their brain, among other things,” said Liz Ferguson of Four Corner Behavioral Health. “There is so much new data that shows exactly how much alcohol damages a young person’s brain.”

Utah’s first lady, Mary Huntsman, and several business representatives has joined the group to help inform the state and local communities of the exceedingly painful dangers.

According to the educational campaign, teens still listen to their parents.

“In fact, kids usually listen to their parents more than anybody else, including their friends,” pointed out the campaign literature.

In a recent survey, teenage respondents reported that parental disapproval was the number one reason they decided not to drink during a particular instance.

The program indicates that binge drinking among children currently begins as early as elementary school, with parents being totally unaware of the youths’ alcohol consumption.

In a national survey, 31 percent of the children who admitted that they had been drunk in the past year said their parents believed they were non-drinkers.

Speaking at a town meeting several months ago, Dave Cox pointed out to parents that showing children the damage alcohol can have on their brains is an effective deterrent to youth.

“The brain goes through dynamic change during adolescence (ages 12 to 21) and alcohol can seriously damage long and short-term growth processes,” pointed out American Medical Association information.

“The pre-frontal area (responsible for good judgment and impulse control) undergoes the most change during adolescence,” continued the AMA. “Researchers found that adolescent drinking could cause severe changes in this area … which … plays an important role in forming adult personality and behavior. Damage from alcohol at this time can be long-term and irreversible.”

The American Medical Association also states that teen age drinking may increase the risk of adult alcohol addiction.

“Teen drinking can program the brain for alcoholism,” states the AMA.

The brain is hard wired to reward positive action with feelings of pleasure so people want to repeat the action.

Alcohol tricks the mind’s reward system by stimulating the production of dopamine, a pleasure producing neurotransmitter.

Drinking alcohol creates feelings of pleasure from a harmful chemical instead of real experience, explains the AMA.

Spokespersons for Parents Empowered demonstrated that three researched based techniques can really make an impact on the choices teens make at their town meeting.

The skills include bonding, boundaries and monitoring.

First, creating a positive loving home environment is essential in helping teens stay away from alcohol.

Experts recommend parents take several steps at home. Parents should:

•Be kind and respectful of each other.

•Do fun activities together on a regular basis.

•Eat dinner together and have pleasant conversations.

Research shows that teens who regularly eat as a family five to seven times per week are 33 percent less likely to drink.

•Pay close attention to children’s emotional well being by becoming involved in their activities.

Adults should ask youth about their friends, hopes, fears and plans.

•Help children to become involved in worthwhile activities.

Adults should encourage by setting an example on how to have a positive, optimistic attitude.

•Watch for signs of excess stress or depression in youth.

Adults should take time to listen and spend at least 15 minutes a day having one-on-one conversations.

During a group meeting at Four Corners last month, health professionals and community members spoke candidly about the problems facing local youth.

“We can’t count on law enforcement because while they do a great job with our kids, these kids think they can get away with anything and our data supports that,” commented members of the group. “What we need to do is find a way to stop this problem before the police have to become involved, before it is their responsibility. We have to get our children to make the right decisions.”

With currently funded programs aimed at assisting teens with substance abuse problems, the community is pushing to help Carbon’s youth make the right choice.