April is Alcohol Awareness Month and high school students will soon be entering prom and graduation season. It is a good time to focus on the problems of drunk driving and alcohol abuse, including reminding families that alcohol is illegal for all those under the age of 21.
Our children are faced with tremendous peer pressure from classmates and friends. Some of these pressures facing children today are to try drugs and alcohol. With the "party" season of prom and graduation, the pressure to drink may be especially high. Parents should talk to their children to educate them and help them understand the dangers of alcohol, and parents should know the law surrounding underage drinking.
Several health organizations and law enforcement officials in our area are promoting a campaign called "Parents Who Host Lose the Most," reminding people that teen-agers can have fun without alcohol. They are warning parents that while their children may say everyone is drinking, they are not. Please have a safe prom so graduation will be a joyful event for everyone.
Whether a teen-ager is out at a party or at home with his or her parents, it is illegal for the underage youth to have alcohol. A Saratoga Springs woman was recently arrested and charged with endangering the welfare of a child when she allegedly purchased beer for her daughter's birthday party and giving alcohol to minors.
Well-intentioned parents may think having children drink at home is better than not knowing where they are or if they are out drinking and driving. While it may be good intentions, it is still against the law to make alcohol available to children other than your own and it is illegal to host or allow teen-age drinking parties in your home. According to New York State laws, parents who knowingly allow a person under the age of 21 to remain on their property while consuming or possessing alcoholic beverages can be prosecuted and face jail sentencing, fines and loss of property.
Not only is underage drinking against the law, alcohol is harmful to minds and bodies that are still developing. Alcohol can alter moods, cause changes in the body and become habit forming. Alcohol depresses the central nervous system, causing slowed reactions, slurred speech and sometimes even unconsciousness. Because alcohol reduces inhibitions, people who drink are more likely to engage in other problematic behaviors. Compared to those who don't use alcohol, drinkers have a greater chance of using other drugs, being in or causing an accident, or hurting themselves and others.
If you or someone you know has an alcohol or drug problem, you can get additional information and help from the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services by calling toll-free (800) 522-5353. Referrals and other assistance will be kept confidential.
To help parents initiate a dialogue with their children, I've developed a brochure in conjunction with the State Senate Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. The questions are designed to stimulate discussions between family members. For a free copy, call my office at 455-2181 (Albany), 843-2188 (Amsterdam), 762-3733 (Johnstown) or toll-free at (800) 224-5201.