Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Underage Drinking Prevention

I went to a Town Hall meeting regarding underage drinking last evening. It was run/sponsored by the Lake County After School Coalition. Beyond the great coffee and the profoundly uncomfortable seating in the high school cafeteria, it was a very good meeting. This meeting is taking place part-way through a process to get community input into the “root problems” and “solutions we can implement to prevent underage drinking”.

The meeting began with a 17 year old recovering alcoholic and drug abuser and his family telling their story. This certainly put a human face on the problem and I applaud the 53-days sober teen (and wish him continued sobriety). That sort of presentation does have an incredible “power”. After “voting” to allow for ranking a list of “problems” and solutions brought up at previous meetings, we broke into small groups to come up with a list of “next steps” (first steps?) for the Coalition, or a sub-group of the Coalition, to pursue to begin to tackle the problem of underage drinking (I believe all of this material will eventually be available on the Lake County After School Coalition website).

The attendees were a fair community cross-section. The small group I was in was interesting. In addition to a local school official, someone who works for an insurance company and someone who works for a social service agency dealing with substance abuse, we had 3 kids (elementary to middle school age). While our group came up with several “next steps” to pursue, it was interesting to listen to the draconian measures the kids suggested (e.g. $5000 a bottle of beer prices and jail terms for selling/giving liquor to a minor). We felt (particularly in light of our opening presentation) that there should be an emphasis on peer education to combat underage drinking and drug use. Kids/teens are more likely to listen to a peer who has “really been there”. Also, we felt a lot of information needs to be put out into the community, e.g. that it really is a minority of kids that are drinking and using (not “everyone is doing it”) and how early exposure to drugs and alcohol (pre- and periadolescence) changes brain chemistry and structure making addiction more likely and harder to escape. Education, information, continued/repeated education can combat this serious problem (and many others).

I look forward to the Coalition’s future efforts and the results of the community input.

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