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Underage drinking on the decline

But Illinois teens more likely to drink than national counterparts

TONICA/LOSTANT — The upcoming months are a busy time for high school students. The weather has improved; more outdoor activities are available; preparations for prom have begun; and graduation will be here shortly. It is a time full of parties and celebrations, but oftentimes those activities can provide the temptation of underage drinking. To increase public awareness of the potential dangers, April was designated “National Alcohol Awareness Month.”

Sponsored by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, the 2016 theme of “Talk Early, Talk Often: Parents Can Make a Difference in Teen Alcohol Use” is designed to bring attention to the role parents play in prevention.

According to the most recent Illinois Youth Survey (IYS), alcohol continues to be the drug of choice among Illinois youth and is the most commonly reported drug across all age groups. As children grow older, the use of alcohol increases; 26 percent of eighth-graders reported using alcohol in the past year, and the percentage jumps to 62 percent for those in 12th grade.

Tracie Mazzorana, a prevention specialist and community relations coordinator with North Central Behavioral Health Systems, said, “Teens tend to use or experiment with alcohol many times as a way of feeling like they fit in — it’s peer pressure plain and simple ... fear of rejection, the desire to feel grown up, not understanding how to avoid or handle a situation. I think many times kids are taken by surprise when they are first offered alcohol, and if they are not prepared with a response, they might make a bad choice.”

The IYS determined Illinois eighth- and 12th-graders are more likely to use alcohol than their national counterparts. Use in the past 30 days among eighth-graders in Illinois was 14.9 percent compared to 10.2 percent nationally. LaSalle County eighth-graders past 30 days use was 17 percent.

Among Illinois 12th-graders, alcohol use within the past 30 days was 44.4 percent contrasted with 39.2 percent nationally. LaSalle County teens past 30 days use was even higher at 51 percent.

Since 2008 for Illinois eighth-graders and since 2012 for Illinois high school seniors, alcohol use has exceeded the national rates for use during both the past 30 days and the past year.

“Parents are the biggest anti-drug. It’s never too young to begin talking to your kids about the dangers of underage drinking. Make sure they are aware the brain is still developing until your mid-20s. If a drug, including alcohol, is introduced before the brain is fully developed, this increases the risk of them developing and addiction to that drug. Parents should know their child’s friends and ask questions — Who’s going to be there? What are you going to be doing? When will you be home? Who’s driving? As parents we need to get and stay involved.

“We also need to lock our liquor cabinets, the less accessible we make alcohol the better. In many homes it’s right next to the milk. It could be a good idea to evaluate your set-up and then make adjustments. Remember, you not only have to worry about easy access to alcohol in your home with your kids but also their friends. Talk with your kids, ask them what their response will be when approached about trying alcohol. Help them come up with a response so they feel prepared for peer pressure,” Mazzorana said.

The IYS showed an encouraging trend, however. While binge drinking was increasing among 12th-graders from 2010 to 2012, results from 2012 to 2014 indicated fewer high school students were choosing to binge drink.

During adolescence the brain goes through many rapid developmental changes. The brain’s frontal lobes, essential for functions such as emotional regulation, planning and organization continue to develop through young adulthood according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Adolescent drinking can damage this process, and the brain is more vulnerable to the toxic and addictive aspects of alcohol during this time. Alcohol use can impair memory, judgment, decision making, impulse control and motor functions.

“As a community we should continue to offer and look to offer even more activities that don’t involve alcohol for our teens to participate in,” Mazzorana said.

In keeping with the talk early, talk often theme, it is important for parents to remember the most important prevention tool available is their voice. According to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, children who learn about the risks of alcohol and drugs from their parents are significantly less likely to use drugs, yet 20 percent report not getting that benefit.

If a parent is concerned their child is drinking or possibly heading in that direction there are warning signs they can watch for.

Mazzorana said, “Are they making it home in time for curfew? Have they been late, and are you getting excuses as to why they’re late? It’s good to look around their room for any signs. Look in and under dressers, check closets, pockets of clothes, check their bags, their cars ... ask them first, if they get defensive just reassure them you care and want to keep them safe and help them make good decisions.”

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