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By Stephanie Strutner, MPH, Executive Director

Each day, approximately 8,000 youth across the nation will take their first drink of alcohol. In Anderson County, this typically happens during age 13; one reason alcohol is the leading drug-of-choice among young people. Annually, more than 4,700 deaths occur among underage youth as a result of alcohol use and approximately 189,000 (2010) emergency room visits are credited to underage drinking. Even though it is illegal, people aged 12 to 20 years drink 11 percent of all the alcohol consumed in the United States.

Underage drinking is strongly linked to delinquent behaviors, including stealing, illicit drug use and problems at home and at school. Underage drinking also plays a significant role in increased sexual behavior, including unwanted, unintended and unprotected sexual activity, sex with multiple partners and teenage pregnancy. Youth who begin drinking before age 15 are five times more likely to develop alcohol dependence or misuse alcohol later in life than those who begin drinking at or after age 21.

Scientific research shows that heavy alcohol use by adolescents has long-term effects on brain development. These health and safety risks have real consequences from which most parents try to protect their children, yet 31% of youth report obtaining alcohol from their parents. Another 27% say they got it from other adults. It is imperative we create a culture that denounces underage drinking. Parents play a major role in their child’s decision to drink alcohol underage. ASAP would like adults in our community to help us send a unified message that teen alcohol consumption is unhealthy, unsafe and unacceptable. Hosting a party where alcohol is available to underage youth is illegal and can pose both serious health risks and legal ramifications for everyone involved. Parents should understand that taking away the car keys does not solve all problems related to underage drinking.

According to District Attorney General Dave Clark, “as a parent, you cannot give alcohol to any minor under the age of 21 under any circumstance, even in your own home. You also cannot knowingly allow a person under 21 to remain in your home or on your property while consuming or possessing alcohol.” General Clark said there are legal consequences if you do. “According to Tennessee law, you can be prosecuted and face up to 11 months, 29 days in jail, a $2,500 fine and loss of driving privileges.”

Adults providing alcohol to underage youth send a mixed message and can only add to a teenager’s confusion about the acceptability of drinking. They are also sending the message to teens that they do not have to obey the law. “Along with ASAP, I would like to urge parents across Anderson County to discourage the underage use of alcohol by refusing to provide alcoholic beverages to underage youth and to continue taking steps necessary to discourage illegal and unhealthy activity,” said General Clark.

The health of our next generation is in your hands. Parents who host, lose the most: don’t be a party to teenage drinking!

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