Research shows that in the past several years, there has been a noticeable decrease in tobacco and drug use among teenagers. While this is good news, the number of underage alcohol drinkers remains steadily high.
About a month ago, in collaboration with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office announced a plan referred to as “Call to Action.” It focuses on reducing the number of underage drinkers in the United States, which, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, was about 11 million in 2005. About 7.2 million of these were considered binge drinkers, consuming five or more drinks on one occasion, and around 2 million were considered heavy drinkers.
At a press conference launching the initiative, acting U.S. Surgeon General Kenneth P. Moritsugu outlined the plan’s agenda while focusing on the various negative effects of underage alcohol consumption.
“Too many Americans see underage drinking as a rite of passage…kids just being kids,” Moritsugu said. “The adverse consequences of underage drinking are wide-ranging and include academic failure, risky sexual behavior, injuries and even death.”
Moritsugu said that every year, the deaths of around 5,000 people under the age of 21 are linked to underage drinking in some way.
“Recent research shows that the brain continues to develop well beyond childhood — and throughout adolescence,” Moritsugu said.
Therefore, drinking while underage entails alcohol consumption before the body is finished developing and could result in negative effects to short-term and long-term cognitive functioning, he said.
One part of the Action plan is to continue providing more compelling information about underage drinking to the public. Currently, six main goals outline the program.
First, various organizations will foster changes in American society that facilitate healthy adolescent development, thereby reducing underage drinking.
Second, institutions will engage parents, schools, communities, all levels of government, all social systems and youth in a combined effort to reduce and prevent drinking.
Third, they will promote an understanding of underage alcohol consumption and all the consequences and effects that it entails.
Fourth, they will continue to research and publicize drinking’s effects.
Fifth, they will work to increase public health surveillance.
And sixth, they will work to coordinate policy to reduce underage drinking.
“This ‘Call to Action’ is a call to every American to join with the Surgeon General in a national effort to address underage drinking early, continuously and in context of human development,” Moritsugu said.
Here on campus, the Safety, Environment and Education Center uses Surgeon General reports on drinking to shape its goals and actions.
“We basically use them as a Bible to decide what to do,” said Daniel Reilly, director of the SEE Center.
Instead of telling students what is right or wrong, the SEE Center works to show students what is best for their bodies.
“We aren’t looking at drinking as right or wrong, or good or bad. We are looking at safety issues,” Reilly said. “We want to show students what is healthy for them.”
There has been a huge decrease in high-risk drinking on campus in the past year, Reilly said. The SEE Center does not highlight the tragedies that students can cause by drinking, but rather looks at the small issues.
“Students don’t think they will get in car wrecks or be a part of other tragedies, but they are concerned about passing out, vomiting and missing class,” Reilly said. “We hope that by addressing drinking through these smaller issues, we are also decreasing tragedy.”
More information about the plan, including the outline to the press conference, the agenda and other fact sheets can be found at http://www.surgeongeneral.gov or by calling the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information at 1-800-729-6686.
To learn more about the SEE Center and its goals for this campus, visit http://web.utk.edu/~seeweb or visit their office, University Center 203.