If all grownups created holiday wish lists at this time of year, the health and safety of children would surely be one of their most frequent requests. Yet holiday time delivers tragedy to many American families and their communities, thanks in part to the season’s increased rates of excessive alcohol use and underage drinking.
Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) described the challenge in a 2005 op-ed article: “Dancing and prancing through Jingle Bell Square, more than a few seasonal revelers mistake alcohol consumption for holiday celebration—teens included. Following the lead of influential adults, many young people are tempted, even encouraged, to finish up the old and ring in the new by, well, downing a few.”
Many local community organizations including Rushford in Meriden have been awarded funding to create community coalitions to address underage drinking and enforce alcohol laws. These initiatives have demonstrated success. A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration fact sheet reported that fatal crashes involving 15- to 20-year-old drivers who had a blood alcohol content of .01 g/dL or higher dropped from 1,932 in 2000 to 1,210 in 2009—a 37 percent decrease. Yet holidays seem to invite excess and rule-bending among many people of all ages—a risk for everyone, but particularly for vulnerable children and teens who use alcohol. In a 2010 report, SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) found that on New Year’s Day 2009, there were an estimated 1,980 emergency department visits involving underage drinking compared to 546 such visits on an average day that year—a 263 percent increase. As SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, J.D., said: “This stunning increase in underage drinking related emergency room visits on New Year’s Day should be a wake up call to parents, community leaders and all caring adults about the potential risks our young people face for alcohol-related accidents, injuries and death during this time of year.”
Prevention does work! All caring adults can help give young people the gift of health and safety this holiday season, and all year long, by doing their part to prevent underage drinking in their community. From planning an alchohol-safe and drug-free holiday season, to modeling and supporting highway safety, we all can do something to protect those we care about—and that’s really worth celebrating.
Meriden SADD and Rushford will again conduct White Out Night on Friday December, December 30th to encourage people to be mindful of the dangers of drinking and driving while celebrating during the holiday time. This is a youth led event, during which participants will be walking down East Main Street from City Hall to the Police Station with a police escort, wearing white t-shirts with safe-driving messages on them. They will also be handing out flyers to promoting a safe New Years holiday, one without drinking and driving. The SADD students promote this activity to convey to parents and adult role models how important it is that everyone use good judgment and remain safe not only this New Years but each day.
For information on White Out Night, or to become involved in the Meriden Underage Drinking Prevention Task force please call me. We can’t do this alone, it takes the entire community! Our youth need your support and guidance.
Best wishes for a joyous, healthy, safe holiday season.