Your View: Teen drinking in Alexandria is prevalent, but preventable with your help


To the editor:

In April, the Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition of Alexandria joined other organizations around the country in recognizing Alcohol Awareness Month and the fact that underage alcohol abuse is a serious problem, not only nationally, but also here in Alexandria. 
According to a 2010 Developmental Assets survey of Alexandria public school youth, 57 percent of Alexandria teens surveyed had tried alcohol. Further, 28 percent of Alexandrias high school seniors indicated they had five or more drinks in a row (binge drinking) at least once in recent weeks.  
Where do our young people get beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages? A new national analysis shows that nearly half of underage youth get alcohol from a parent or guardian or from home. Other sources were an unrelated adult or another underage youth, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 
Here in Alexandria, 17 percent of high school students who drank alcohol in the past month said someone gave them alcohol, according the 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. During focus groups held by SAPCA in 2008, students said that alcohol is easy to get. 
Since it was established in 2007, SAPCA has recognized teen alcohol abuse as a problem that we as a community need to address. The future of our youth is at stake. Youth who begin drinking at age 15 are five times more likely to report abuse of or dependence on alcohol than adults who first used alcohol at age 21. Drinking can seriously damage a young persons developing brain and increase the risk of sexual activity and other risky behavior.
SAPCA has taken a number of measures to address teen alcohol use and abuse. For example, SAPCA worked with Del. Charniele Herring (D-46) to strengthen the language in Virginias Social Host law a prohibition of parents and other adults purchasing or providing alcohol to minors. Delegate Herrings bill, HB 1496, passed the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate with no nay votes and was recently signed into law by Gov. Bob McDonnell (R). 
SAPCA believes that alcohol and substance abuse prevention is a year-round community issue. Alcohol awareness month should be the catalyst for our community to come together in support of prevention. No one group can do this alone. Only a comprehensive, holistic effort by youth, parents, schools, law enforcement, businesses, policymakers and the community at large will yield success.