A while back, I was talking with a friend of mine who runs a local business. He shared with me his interviews with two great candidates for his company. These young people (ages 22-24) had relevant skills, ambition, and seemed to be promising hires. As part of his business, he routinely conducts background checks on all new employees. The two checks on these individuals found that both had DWI (driving while intoxicated) offenses on their records. Much to his disappointment, the increased cost to manage the associated risks made it so he could not afford to hire them.
My friend’s disappointment is not surprising. 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. The career implications of DWI, which my friend witnessed, are among the least costly of potential consequences. Underage drinking 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.
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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…