Underage alcohol consumption is no joke

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To the editor:

Halloween and the holiday season are moving closer on our calendars, thus a time for parties and celebrations is near. This is also the time when adults, older siblings, friends and even strangers are tempted to purchase beer, wine coolers and other alcoholic beverages for underage youth. Some parents even turn a blind eye to parties in their homes where alcohol is available to teens.

Alexandria residents need to prepare for a shock Sticker Shock. On Saturday, October 23, as part of Alexandrias Sticker Shock campaign, teams of youth and adults, sponsored by the Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition of Alexandria, will place STOP stickers on multi-packs of beer, wine coolers and other products in stores throughout Alexandria. The stickers tell adults: Know the Law: It is illegal for any person 21 or older to purchase or provide alcohol to minors.  Fines are up to $2,500 or one year in jail.

These penalties for adults can derail careers and reputations, but the real damage is to the safety, health and futures of Alexandrias youth. Horrific collisions in which teens given alcohol by adults are killed or severely injured, sometimes for life, remind us of the dangers of providing alcohol to minors. In addition there is a growing body of evidence of the damage that alcohol does to the developing bodies and brains of young people. Youth who begin drinking at age 15 are five times more likely to report abuse or dependence on alcohol as adults than if they began drinking at 21 years old, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Despite the terrible impact alcohol can have on the lives of our youth, alcohol is still too accessible to them. During focus groups that SAPCA commissioned in 2008, students reported that alcohol was easy to get. According to an April 2010 survey of Alexandrias youth, 49 percent of the citys 12th-grade students reported that over the last year they attended three or more parties where other kids their own age were drinking. The response by 11th-grade students was 38 percent only slightly better. Also, 43 percent of the 12th-grade students reported that they had used alcohol one or more times in the previous 30 days.    

Adults in Alexandria have the power to change the mindset that drinking alcohol is a rite of passage for teens, and its okay for them to drink, as long as its in my home.  Its time for adults to think twice and refrain from purchasing alcohol for minors. 

Working with our partners (Alexandria Community Services Board, Alexandria Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Affairs, Alexandria Police Department, Alexandria Sheriffs Office, Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, Building Better Futures, and Community Lodgings), SAPCA hopes to send a wake-up shock to all adults in our city with the message that its simply not okay and its against the law to give alcoholic beverages to our youth.

– Allen Lomax
Chair, Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition of Alexandria

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