Spring is such a happy time of year for students, with spring break, prom, graduation and the end of the school year approaching. But for all too many Oklahoma students these fun activities can end in tragedy if underage drinking is involved.
Earlier this year, the State Department of Education and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services announced a partnership to offer AlcoholEdu free to all high schools in the state. The course also has components for parents and teachers to help them engage students in conversations about the detriments of underage drinking.
Terri White, commissioner for the Department of Mental Health, gave some eye-opening statistics to the problem of underage drinking:
• Oklahoma ranks 7th in the nation for underage drinking
• More than 70 percent of teenagers have used alcohol; 40 percent reported using it within 30 days of being asked
• Approximately 68 deaths a year among young people are alcohol related
• Twelve is the average age at which youth report taking their first drink
• More than 32,000 young people each year struggle with addiction issues
• In 2010, about $831 million was spent as a result of underage drinking, whether from car accidents, unintended pregnancies, school dropouts, etc.
This is tragic, and it must stop. It’s time to shine a bright light on this issue.
There are also academic reasons to work to curb underage drinking. Studies show that students who abstain from alcohol score 18 points higher on reading tests, nationally, and 45 points higher in mathematics, while a young person who has just consumed alcohol will remember 10 percent less. Other studies show that the brain is not fully formed until a person is between the ages of 21 and 25, so drinking alcohol can actually stunt brain development.
Brandon Busteed, the founder of AlcoholEdu, said he started the program in college, when he noticed that many of his peers were limiting their potential by engaging in drinking. His goal is to empower young people to make the best choice for their bodies and their future by giving them all of the information about drinking and it’s effects.
Busteed said Oklahoma is the only state in the nation to offer the program to all high schools statewide. He also said the partnership between the departments of Education and Mental Health is rather unique.
We want to ensure we are doing all we can to help high school students live up to their full potential. We think AlcoholEdu is an important factor in this goal.
At the State Department of Education, we have hosted several webinars for educators to get them started in the program, and we will be hosting more in the future as interest grows. For more information, or to sign up.