By Julie Spackman, Certified Prevention Specialist, Deschutes County Health Services.

Taking away the car keys before your teen parties with alcohol does not remove all potential harm from the situation. In October 2012, the CDC released a study announcing that teen drinking and driving has declined over the last 10 years is terrific news. Impaired driving, however, is not the only thing we should be concerned about when our kids they hang out together. Their safety is compromised in many ways when alcohol use is part of their activities.

The Surgeon General, the American Medical Association, and American Academy of Pediatrics are all in agreement about the harms of underage and binge drinking. Decades of comprehensive research reveal negative impacts to the brain, liver, and endocrine system. In fact, the damage can be irreversible, impairing vocabulary, memory, academic performance, as well as both verbal and non-verbal recall. Alcohol use can disrupt a teen’s sleep cycle, which can affect the release of hormones necessary for growth and maturation.

Unfortunately, the consequences don’t stop there. Youth who use alcohol are at higher risk for suicide, homicide and fatal injuries. According to the DAWN Report (Drug Abuse Warning Network), “In 2010, there were approximately 189,000 emergency rooms visits by persons under age 21 for injuries and other conditions linked to alcohol.” Adolescents who drink are also more likely to have problems with gambling, which can lead to lifelong trouble with money (2010 Student Wellness Survey, Deschutes County). Research has also shown that youth who start drinking before the age of 15 are five times more likely to develop alcohol dependence or abuse later in life than those who begin drinking at or after age 21.

We all want to see our children reach their full potential. We already know how important it is to keep alcohol away while our children are being formed in the womb. It is just important to keep alcohol away from our teenagers developing brains. We must reduce youth access to alcohol. Adults, when teens want to have a party, host an alcohol-free event. Even though our teens may disagree, their brains still need protection. We can do a lot to help. So say, “Yes”, to hosting teen parties – our kids love to get together and hang out – but TAKE AWAY THE ALCOHOL.

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