Friday, March 18, 2011

Teen drinking... it's not a problem in my town

I applaud the Saratogian's recent series on alcoholism. I’ve worked in human services for more than 25 years (ouch-- that’s over a quarter of a century! When did that happen?). Throughout that time I’ve seen how alcohol and drug abuse damages peoples’ lives. I think it is the most prevalent social problem we have… and because many of us use alcohol responsibly, we don’t always see the magnitude of problems that alcohol misuse causes. While not always the root cause of problems, I've seen repeatedly how alcohol/drug abuse affects employment, homelessness, driving tragedies, domestic violence, sexual assault, mental health issues, HIV/AIDSfamily relationships, and happiness. But there’s hope. Over and over, I’ve seen lives transformed when people got clean and sober. And our greatest hope is that the next generation has a different relationship with alcohol that sets responsible use as the expectation. And changing that societal norm is the only way to address this problem.

We’re not there… yet. I am proud to be part of a strong community group, The Shenendehowa Community Coalition, that has been working diligently for years to address alcohol and drug use by youth in the Shenendehowa community. I live in Clifton Park and I think most of us don’t talk about substance abuse as a big community problem… we live in a great place. In reality, I think we’re just not talking about the extent of the problem.

The Coalition, in partnership with the Shenendehowa School System, surveys students biannually about drug and alcohol use (using nationally validated survey tools) Here are some surprising facts:

·         By grades 11-12, binge drinking rates among Shenendehowa youth exceed the state averages by over 14 percentage points. 
·         Tellingly, in youth focus groups conducted in 2009, 12th graders in the district denied a problem with binge drinking until it was defined for them as 5 or more drinks in a row.  With this definition, their comments revealed that binging is actually very common and that, in fact, 5 drinks is viewed by most Shen 12th graders as moderate alcohol consumption.
·         Both adult and youth DWI arrests for Saratoga County are higher than for similar counties or NYS on average. 
·         Youth receiving treatment for alcohol related issues is significantly higher than that for similar counties and the NYS average.

OK…. so let’s keep talking the  about nice neighborhoods, low crime, great educational system and all the other attributes of the Shen district… but let’s also start a conversation about what we can do about  our kids  and underage drinking.

Tomorrow --continuing the conversation …
an opportunity to get involved and make a difference for youth

The Shen Community Coalition is comprised of youth and adults from the school district, CAPTAIN, Clifton Park Elks, Town of Clifton Park, The Prevention Council, Saratoga County District Attorney, Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services of Saratoga County, St. Edward the Confessor, Seton Health, United Way of the Greater Capital Region, the Saratoga County Youth Bureau, along with other local agencies and organizations. The Coalition’s vision is a safe and healthy environment where alcohol and substance use by youth is eliminated and every member of our community is aware of and involved in prevention of substance abuse.

The Shen Community Coalition's Mission:
Reduce and prevent risky behaviors among youth such as substance abuse, violence and problem gambling by developing community partnerships that utilize accurate data and implementing proven strategies.

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