(Flemington NJ – April 30, 2015) – Did you know that April was Alcohol Awareness Month? Although the month is over, public awareness of alcohol-related issues is still a priority of the Safe Communities Coalition of Hunterdon/Somerset. Alcohol is the #1 reason for treatment in New Jersey. And alcohol continues to be the top drug of choice for our youth.
Each April since 1987, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) has sponsored Alcohol Awareness Month to increase public awareness and understanding, reduce stigma and encourage local communities to focus on alcoholism and alcohol-related issues. The Coalition supports this endeavor not only each April but with their everyday activities and initiatives throughout the entire year.
Alcohol consumption has been a consistent issue in Hunterdon County for many years, as evidenced by the results of the county-wide Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey (BRFSS) going back to 1995. In 2010, 78.3% of the adults in Hunterdon County reported having at least one drink of an alcoholic beverage in the past 30 days, with 6.8% reporting drinking on a daily basis. This is a 27.4% increase from 2005 and is also more than 20% above statewide averages and 26% above national figures. While males in the county are generally reporting higher alcohol consumption, the figures for both males and females are quite high. (Source: 2013-2015 Hunterdon County Community Health Improvement Plan.) Hunterdon County is also above the state average for adults who engage in binge drinking. According to the 2010 BRFSS, 29.3% of Hunterdon adults engaged in binge drinking vs. 25.5% for the state.
“Alcohol is often seen as the safer drug, but unfortunately, it is the number one drug for treatment admissions,” said Karen A. Widico, MSW, CPS, Co-Executive Director of Hunterdon Prevention Resources. “Some adults misuse alcohol over a period of time, progressing from moderate social use to excessive use, while youth often see alcohol as a “rite of passage” drug.”
Alcohol use by young people is extremely dangerous, both to themselves and to society, and is directly associated with traffic fatalities, violence, suicide, educational failure, alcohol overdose, unsafe sex and other problem behaviors, even for those who may never develop a dependence or addiction. Adolescence is a time of heightened risk taking, and young people may not be fully prepared to anticipate all the consequences of drinking alcohol, such as swigging drinks to “celebrate” a special occasion, or being in a car with a driver who has been drinking. Alcohol is the number one drug of choice for America’s youth, and is more likely to kill young people than all illegal drugs combined.
As their brains are still developing, youth are more susceptible to alcohol-related problems. Do you know what 15-7-21 stands for? If a young person starts drinking before the age of 15, they are 7 times more likely to have an alcohol-related issue as an adult than if they waited until the age of 21.
According to the Pride Risk and Protective Factors Survey for 2013-2014, the percentage of Hunterdon County youth who have used alcohol in the past 30 days increased from 8.8% of 9th graders to 45.5% of 12th graders, although the perception of risk from alcohol use was high with 87.3% of 9th graders and 82.2% of 12th graders seeing use as a risk.
Reducing underage drinking is critical to securing a healthy future for America’s youth and requires a cooperative effort from parents, schools, community organizations, business leaders, government agencies, the entertainment industry, alcohol manufacturers/retailers and young people themselves.
“Underage drinking is a complex issue,” says Andrew Pucher, President and Chief Executive Officer of NCADD, “one that can only be solved through a sustained and cooperative effort. As a nation, we need to wake up to the reality that for some, alcoholism and addiction develop at a young age and that intervention, treatment, and recovery support are essential for them and their families,” says Pucher. “We can’t afford to wait any longer.”
“The Hunterdon UAD (underage drinking) workgroup for the Safe Communities Coalition is currently focusing on alcohol, and marijuana, as the gateway to other drugs,” said Peggy Dowd, chair of the UAD workgroup. “A look at the heroin use/overdose/deaths in Hunterdon County recently shows most started with alcohol and/or marijuana.”
Brenda Esler, who chairs the Somerset UAD workgroup for the Coalition, says, “We are sponsoring an essay contest at Somerville and Hillsborough high schools. Youth will write about the dangers of underage drinking. The essay must also include how to tell a friend about the 911 Lifeline Legislation so students will have to become familiar with it to enter.”