To the editor:
Spring has arrived, and the school year is entering its last few weeks. High school seniors around the country are already looking forward to prom and their 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 schoolmates are not impervious to the harsh realities of the world. Alcohol abuse is a very real and serious problem at T.C. Williams, especially around graduation time. According to the most recent Alexandria Youth Risk Behavior Survey:
• 30 percent of high school students reported drinking alcohol in the past 30 days.
• 40 percent of seniors said they had consumed alcohol in the last 30 days.
• 15 percent of T.C. students have engaged in binge drinking (five or more drinks 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 in this age group. This is because adolescents have less experience driving and are more susceptible than older drivers to the influences of alcohol. The fatality rate among alcohol-related crashes involving adolescents — ages 16 to 20 — is more than twice the rate for drivers older than 20.
I, Cassie, know only too well what happens when you combine alcohol with driving. On Christmas morning in 2008, my cousins were 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 died in the crash, and his younger brother is scarred because of the accident. He turned to his oldest brother after regaining consciousness. Before the medics pulled him out of the car, he saw that his older brother — sitting next to him — had died.
My younger cousin was 6 years old at the time. No person should ever 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 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 of Alexandria has supported many measures to address teen alcohol use. As this week is National Prevention Week and Wednesday was Alcohol Abuse Prevention Day, the SAPCA Club that we founded at T.C. 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.
In addition, annually, SAPCA organizes the sticker shock campaign. Teams of volunteers place “STOP” stickers throughout local 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-one misdemeanor to provide minors with alcohol. With the help of SAPCA and Delegate Charniele Herring, the new wording increases adult liability by changing “knowing” the drinker is younger than 21 to “having reason to know the drinker is under 21.”
Alcohol abuse is a very real epidemic in our community. It is imperative residents join SAPCA in taking a stand against underage substance use and help the graduating class of 2013 realize their bright futures.
- Emma West and Cassie Cowart
Juniors at T.C. Williams, SAPCA Club members