By Aaron Graffman
OSU Prevention Programs
Although the legal drinking age in the U.S. is 21, close to one quarter of youth aged 12 to 20 (24.3 percent) drank alcohol in 2012. The consequences of underage drinking can be calamitous; each year, 4, 700 people under age 21 die from homicides, suicides, car crashes, and drowning related to drinking alcohol. Furthermore, underage drinking is a problem shared by all communities. Underage drinking happens, but the good news is that it is also preventable.
Many are familiar with media campaigns, such as the Office of Drug Control Policy's (ONDCP) Above the Influence campaign and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA) underage drinking campaign Talk. They Hear You. , that counteract the negative advertising that bombards youth every day. While these campaigns are incredibly important and effective, kids also deserve to hear these messages from people they know and who care about them, rather than just from the media. Just talking to youth about substance use and abuse and being involved in their lives can make a difference:
• Youth aged 12 to 17 who believe their parents would strongly disapprove of their using a substance are less likely to use that substance than a youth who believe their parent would somewhat disapprove or neither approve or disapprove.
• Youth aged 12 to 17 whose parents always or sometimes engage in monitoring behaviors – like helping with homework – binge drink, use illicit drugs, and smoke cigarettes less frequently than those whose parents seldom or never engage in such behaviors.
Every day, parents, caregivers, educators, and community leaders in Okmulgee County can make a difference by having conversations with youth about substance use, and modeling healthy choices. According to the 2012 Oklahoma Prevention Needs Assessment (OPNA), 41percent of Okmulgee County 12th Graders drank alcohol in the past 30 days. As individuals and a community, we can help prevent underage drinking by being involved in young people's lives; identifying resources, support systems, and alternatives for youth in the community; and raising awareness about the importance of prevention.