Two weeks ago, several local organizations hosted a training for law enforcement officers titled “Controlled Party Dispersal.” The purpose of the training was to prepare officers to safely control and contain underage alcohol parties. As the officers engaged with the trainer, I was shocked to hear about the excesses of underage alcohol parties officers encountered in all parts of El Paso County. In two cases, the parties were hosted by businesses with underage individuals as the targeted customers. While the officers’ anecdotes are shocking, these specific events are merely symptoms of a larger dynamic: Alcohol is the drug of choice among America’s youth.
Underage drinking is deeply embedded in our culture. Many youth begin drinking before the age of 13. By age 15, about half of youth have had a drink of alcohol. In some cases, the first drink is viewed as a rite of passage, in others; it is even facilitated by adults. Once youth start drinking, they drink less frequently than adults; but, they tend to drink more heavily. The Texas Department of State Health Services estimates that about one-fourth of Texas high school students binge drink (drink five or more drinks on the same occasion). Nationwide, about 10 percent of American youth (ages 12-20) are considered to meet the criteria for alcohol use disorders (AUD’s) and/or received treatment at a specialty facility for an alcohol problem. While an occasional party may appear harmless, there can be serious consequences to underage drinking. It is a leading contributor to death from injuries, the main cause of death for individuals under the age of 21. Of these, about 38% of underage deaths from injuries involve motor vehicle crashes. The use of alcohol plays a significant role in risky sexual behavior, including unwanted, unintended, and unprotected sexual activity, and sex with multiple partners. Underage drinking increases a young person’s risk of physical and sexual assault. And, underage drinking increases the risk for heavy drinking later in life. One overall strategy for preventing underage drinking is called “scaffolding.” In the construction industry, a scaffold is a temporary structure used to support workers and materials when a building is being constructed. Once the building is complete, the scaffold is removed. In the context of youth development, scaffolding refers to the supports provided by parents, neighbors, and other community members to help children and youth to behave in a more mature way until they are ready to function without the extra support. As part of the scaffold, the U.S. Surgeon General recommends the following actions for parents and caregivers to promote the best alcohol-related outcomes for their youth: • Be aware of your youth’s whereabouts. • Know your youth’s friends. • Be knowledgeable of your youth’s activities. • Enforce the parental rules you’ve set. • Strengthen your youth’s skills in refusing alcohol. In addition, the Surgeon General emphasizes that parents need to serve as positive role models for their children by not drinking excessively, by avoiding alcohol consumption when driving a motor vehicle or boating, and by seeking professional help for alcohol-related problems. Underage alcohol use is not inevitable. However, a successful community effort to prevent youth alcohol use cannot be lead by parents alone. Parts of the scaffold must involve all individuals and organizations that can affect young people, including: local government, schools, churches, employers, neighbors, and family. The Paso del Norte Health Foundation is working with other local organizations to build such a community effort. If you are interested, call (915) 544-7636,
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December 14, 2017
Community advocates recently gathered for a luncheon, hosted by A Smoke Free Paso del Norte, to celebrate El Paso’s 15 years of a smoke-free environment. In 2002, El Paso became the first Texas city to adopt a Clean Indoor Air Ordinance.
A Smoke Free Paso del Norte, an initiative of the Paso del Norte Health Fou…