It is against the law to serve alcohol to minors in your home! This is no surprise. The surprise may be that the “House Party” law was toughened in July, 2011 and the consequences for adult hosts heightened. Our dedicated community police chiefs are committed to enforce this law. Why? Because underage drinking causes real harm to our youth, to our communities and to you.
Contrary to the popular myth that underage drinking is a “right of passage” causing no harm, continued research warns that teens who drink are far more likely to engage in violent behavior, suffer sexual assault, fail in school, be involved in a car crash, suffer depression and even commit suicide. These dangers are well known.
What you may not be aware of is the devastating affects that alcohol can have on a teenager’s developing brain. The adolescent brain is much more susceptible to drug dependence and addiction than the fully developed adult brain. The earlier that alcohol use starts, the more likely the person is to become dependent. Addiction follows a process (use, abuse, addiction) that in young people can be frighteningly quick – a matter of weeks or months. Many of our youth are sent off to college already dependent on the drug, only to become addicted for life in the college social scene, where alcohol is prevalent.
Let’s be clear here. Not all teenagers drink alcohol. There are plenty of teens who have been educated on the dangers of early alcohol use and have chosen to stay sober until age 21 – when the risk of addiction later in life is reduced by five times. Where did these clear thinking, self-aware young people receive this “say no to drugs” education? Seventy five percent of them report they make their decisions about alcohol based on the influence of their parents.
So here we are, right at home; parents. Our role here is vital, so do not ignore the danger, learn the truth. Alcohol, a drug that depresses the central nervous system, kills more of our youth than all other drugs combined. Understand that giving alcohol to a young person harms their health and development. It is against the law.
Do not rely on the convenient myth that there is no problem in Europe and other countries where children are allowed to drink. This is not true. There are huge addiction and binge-drinking problems in youth of other nations. The number of health problems, for example liver cirrhosis and certain cancers, are much higher in nations where alcohol consumption starts earlier than in the United States. Of special importance to our Magic City, a city with a Hispanic majority: Hispanic youth are more likely to drink and get drunk at an earlier age than non-Hispanic white or African- American young people.
Yet, with all this danger, the majority of teens who do drink get their alcohol from adults and in private homes, many from their own homes. Research shows that teens given alcohol at home will drink more frequently and in a higher quantity when away from home. They are more likely to get in a car with someone who has been drinking, drink and drive themselves and drive drunk later in life. It is just not possible to “teach” the adolescent brain to drink or make true the fairy tale that adolescents can learn to drink responsibly at home. Stand up for the law and for the health and welfare of our youth and communities.
Perhaps I am more tuned in to the danger because my 16-year-old daughter was run down and killed while roller-blading on a bikepath on a sunny afternoon 12 years ago. Nobody in the car that ran her down was over the age of 18. The driver and her companions came from a house where they spent the afternoon drinking tequila and smoking marijuana. Adults were present and it was an environment where adolescent use of alcohol and other drugs was tolerated. One of the passengers was arrested six years later for marijuana possession. I know the danger, the despair, the grief and tragic loss brought on by underage drinking. I hope you never know it so personally.
Now that school has started again, please join me and our police chiefs and officers to help stop the many house parties that cater to youth and release drunk teenagers on our streets. It is utterly ineffective, naïve and downright dangerous to throw a party with alcohol for youth and justify it by taking the car keys. It is against the law. You may take away the keys, but you cannot take away the harm you cause those teens.
To those adults who continue to break the law and host parties, don’t be surprised if you are arrested and held liable. You may even be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor, which can come with a prison sentence and a permanent criminal record. The stakes are too high. Every year 6,000 people — people of all ages — lose their lives due to underage drinking.
These are lives we can save by working together. It is simple. How?
• Get current and accurate information. Madd.org/powerofparents, samhsa.gov, ncadd.org and informedfamilies.org are good places to start.
• Share the information with family and friends. Have a family meal at least 3-4 times a week -no television, no phones. Communicate. Listen. Talk-don’t lecture.
• Model responsible adult behavior.
I said this was simple; not easy, but well worth the effort. The life you save could be in your family or in your circle of friends.
In 1964, The Surgeon General of the United States released a “Call to Action” on smoking because of the higher death rate of people who smoked. It took more than three decades for our society to take notice and in the meantime thousands of people died. We did, however, take notice and we made changes. So has much of the world. In 2007, the Surgeon General released “A Call to Action” on underage drinking and binge drinking for the same reason: It causes this nation profound harm. I hope it will not take us decades to take notice and change our behavior. The cost is too dear.
For more information, go to www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/calls/underagedrinking/index.html.
David Sampedro is an attorney with the Pinecrest law firm of Panter, Panter & Sampedro. He may be contacted by calling 305-662-6178 or by sending email to firstname.lastname@example.org