By Shari L. Johnson
Calhoun Middle High School
Youth Force Project Director

Alcohol and the Teen Brain

A person's brain does not stop developing until his or her early to mid-20s and adding alcohol to the mix is a recipe for disaster. The brain goes through dynamic change during adolescence, and alcohol can seriously damage long- and short-term growth processes. Frontal lobe development and the refinement of pathways and connections continue into the mid-20's.

Damage from alcohol at this time can be long-term and irreversible. In addition, short-term or moderate drinking can impair learning and memory far more in youth than in adults. Adolescents need only drink half as much as adults to suffer the same negative effects.

Underage drinking is not just a youth problem. It is also very much an adult problem. Adults continue to allow those under the legal drinking age to drink—illegally—by selling alcohol to those under 21, providing or purchasing alcohol, looking the other way when teens openly talk about their drinking exploits, and refusing to hold other adults and youth accountable for breaking the law.

We, as a community, have to send a strong and consistent message that underage alcohol use is illegal and will not be tolerated. We also have to hold youth and adults accountable when they break the law.

Why do some people believe it is wrong for adults to deal illicit drugs to teens, but OK for an adult to provide alcohol to those under 21? It is just as illegal—and harmful. The fact is alcohol is the No. 1 youth drug problem in America and more young people die from alcohol-related causes than from all other illicit drugs combined. Until we treat underage alcohol for the public health problem it is, there will continue to be teen drinking problems.

The widespread availability and access to alcohol fuels the underage drinking problem. Teens drink because they can and because alcohol is readily available to them. There are people in our community who probably provide ample opportunities for minors to get alcohol. By eliminating this access, there would be a reduction in youth alcohol-related problems such poor school performance, poor athletic performance, risky sexual behavior, stealing, violence, problems at home, unintentional injuries, car crashes, arrests and even suicide. If teens can't get alcohol, they can't drink it.

Some ways you can help keep alcohol away from teens

Report underage drinking parties; Keep adults legally accountable for providing alcohol to teens; Strengthen compliance check programs (checking for proper ID) for stores that sell alcohol; Implement enforcement efforts targeting underage drinking parties.

While enforcement of existing laws is key to reducing underage drinking, if a law doesn't exist it cannot be enforced. That is why ensuring tough underage drinking laws are on the books is so critical. Below is a listing of exiting laws and laws that West Virginia does not have:

Existing Laws in West Virginia - Mandatory BAC testing for drivers who are killed; Felony DUI; Ignition interlock; Mandatory alcohol assessment/treatment .08 per se; Administrative license revocation; Dram shop; Fake ID; Graduated drivers licensing; Penalties for test refusal greater than test failure; Mandatory jail 2nd offense; Mandatory alcohol education; Preliminary breath tester; Plate sanctions; Repeat offender law that is federally compliant; Youth possession of alcohol; Vehicular homicide; Youth attempt at purchase; Youth consumption of alcohol; Youth purchase; Selling/furnishing alcohol to youth; Zero tolerance; Sobriety checkpoints

Laws NOT in West Virginia - Mandatory BAC Testing for Drivers who Survive; Vehicle Impound; Vehicle Sanctions While Suspended; Vehicle Confiscation; Primary Belt Law; Keg Registration; Anti-Plea Bargaining; Child Endangerment; Habitual Traffic Offender; Happy Hour Laws; High BAC; Hospital BAC Reporting; Mandatory Server Training; Open Container Law that is Federally Compliant; Lower BAC for Repeat Offender; Victim Rights Constitutional Amendment; Social Host

If you'd like more information go to www.why21.org

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