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​Youth and Alcohol: Keeping Teens Safe

Earlier this month, a report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) noted that underage drinking is declining in the U.S. Although I am encouraged by such reports, I believe we should remain focused on prevention efforts due to the negative impact alcohol and other substances have on teens. As the organization also notes, “Underage alcohol use is one of the most serious public health issues facing youths in the United States.” There is still work to be done and we can’t be complacent.

According to the report, 22.7 percent of youth ages 12-20 had an alcoholic drink in the past month. That is still a large number of young people who are drinking; parents and the professionals that support them should still be concerned. When prevention education is reduced and drinking is perceived to be less harmful, trends tend to move in a negative direction because prevention efforts tend to shift to where the data shows a growing need. However, the current message—that drug and alcohol use has a negative impact on teens’ healthy development—needs to continue. It’s important that the “no use” message be consistent and supported with community resources.

I’m also concerned because the report comes just as many schools have let out for summer. After a long school year, teens are enjoying their new-found freedom and letting off steam. We all need to encourage them to make wise decisions and engage in healthy activities that don’t involve alcohol. According to a study conducted by SAMHSA in 2012, young people are much more likely to try alcohol, cigarettes, and other drugs for the first time during the summer months. Researchers have found that first-time use of these substances peaks during June and July, with thousands more youths trying them each day compared to other months.

It is important that parents remain focused on providing appropriate supervision, sending appropriate messages, and serving as positive role models during this high-risk time. We are encouraged that trends in usage may be at historical lows; however, we must all remain focused on educating students throughout the year about the risks of substance abuse. We need to intervene early and engage young people in programs that provide them with needed skills and resources to work through any challenges that may arise.