Underage drinking is costly

Friday, July 14, 2006

For those in the community who continue to believe that underage drinking is a harmless teenage rite of passage, it's time for them to rethink their attitude, especially in light of a new survey conducted by Pacific Institute of Research and Evaluation.

Based on the study's findings, underage drinking is not only dangerous to our young people but extremely costly to society. In America, underage drinking costs $62 billion every year in injuries, deaths and lost work time. The study reveals that the largest costs result from alcohol-induced rapes, murders, assaults and other violent crimes committed by underage defendants who have been drinking. These offenses come with a price tag of $34.7 billion. Drunk-driving incidents involving teenagers cost around $13.5 billion. Researchers assessed cost by totalling hospital bills, lost work hours, lowered quality of life and other consequences that occur when those under the age of 21 choose to drink.

Another scary and very real result of teenage drinking is high-risk sex. When young people drink, their inhibitions are affected and wrong often becomes right when alcohol is introduced into a social situation. The Pacific Institute study said the estimated cost of high-risk sex among teenage drinkers carried costs of nearly $5 billion.

Drinking at a young age also brings with it the chance of a lifelong addiction to alcohol or drugs. The study showed that nearly $2 billion was spent in the United States on addiction treatment programs for underage drinkers.

In Cassville, there is one organization in particular that has targeted the problem of underage drinking. Community 2000 and the Cassville Youth Advisory Council has been working for a number of years on programs aimed at reducing the prevalence of underage drinking in Cassville. This group, which has successfully received grant funding to support its programs for the past seven years, has been instrumental in several key policy changes locally. Community 2000 lobbied for passage of a minor in possession by consumption law, which the Cassville City Council approved in 2005. The group also supported a keg registration ordinance, which is now in effect across Barry County.

In addition, Community 2000 has worked hard to disseminate an anti-drinking, anti-drug message among students and parents. The group is responsible for the eye-catching, color programs distributed at the homecoming football game and last home game of the girls' and boys' basketball seasons at CHS. Community 2000 has also purchased Wildcat water bottles, covered in drug-free messages and distributed from the concession stand during home ball games at Cassville. Lock-ins, pool parties and other activities have also been organized by Community 2000 to give area teens an entertainment alternative to drinking. Those involved in Community 2000 are very low key and seek little media attention, but their efforts should be noted. We are thankful that such an organization exists and community members of all ages are willing to get involved.

It's time our community realizes that underage drinking is a serious problem among our young people, and we need to do all we can to curb its appeal. Too many people still believe that drinking is something all teens must experience. Let's raise expectations and encourage our young people to stay involved in school, sports and other extracurricular activities and help them find ways to have good, clean, sober fun.