Focus: Educating about the dangers of alcohol
High school students across the area will soon be celebrating at prom and graduation parties, and Community Connections wants to bring awareness to the dangers of alcohol.
Catiana Urrutia, Substance Abuse Prevention coordinator, says the organization focuses a lot on underage drinking and binge drinking education in the community.
“For example, our Impact Team is a group of sixth graders that Angela Hipp (mentoring coordinator) and Becky Manning (assets team coordinator) meet with at Madison on Wednesdays after school,” Urrutia said. “This week we talked about alcohol and marijuana and how that affects the body.”
She said Community Connections is bringing the effects of drinking to the attention of the kids.
“We say ‘It’s not that we are telling you not to do it just because I say so, we’re asking you not to do it because these are the consequences, that you will be severely hindered in the future,’” Urrutia said.
The biggest thing Urrutia said she points out is how drinking affects brain development.
“Our brains are not fully developed until we’re about 25 or 26,” Urrutia said. “So anything that hinders that before you’re fully developed is not good.”
Drinking early in life impacts a part of the brain known as the hippocampus.
“This is the part of the brain that helps with memory,” Urrutia said. “So if you start drinking at 13, 14, that’s going to be severely impacted and that affects your schoolwork, your ability to study productively, your vocabulary intake, all those kinds of things.”
The National Institutes of Health says that 47 percent of the people they survey who started drinking before age 13 met the criteria for alcohol dependence.
“If they waited until they were 21 to start drinking, it drops to 9 percent of people who met the criteria for alcohol dependence,” Urrutia said.
She said the students generally are shocked when presented with the facts, although being part of the Impact group is a positive influence for them.
“I think it helps that these kids are part of a program where they all have like-minded thinking,” Urrutia said. “As a kid, surrounding yourself with friends that have good standards helps as well.”
A big concern for her is what she called “adventure advertising” that draws people toward alcohol.
“The first question people ask when invited to a wedding or a party is almost always whether or not they will have alcohol,” Urrutia said. “Businesses know that if there’s not going to be alcohol, there’s probably not going to be a large turnout.”
The marketing of alcohol across all age groups makes Urrutia unhappy.
“It’s sad that people think they need alcohol to have a good time, or to feel enticed to go do something,” Urrutia said.
She said it is not their intent to tell people not to drink, but to think about how to prevent serious consequences.
“For adults, we encourage them to drink responsibly, know how to do that and avoid binge drinking,” Urrutia said. “For kids, don’t drink if you’re underage because it’s not good for you.”
Urrutia said kids need to learn early, so when they are of legal drinking age, they know what their limitations are and don’t end up in the hospital.
“Binge drinking for (adult) males is five or more drinks in a period of two hours,” Urrutia said. “For (females) it’s four or more drinks in two hours.”
She said binge drinking is extremely dangerous.
“For the most part with binge drinking, they’re drinking with the intent of getting drunk,” Urrutia said. “There are a plethora of stories about people getting alcohol poisoning and ending up in the hospital and even dying.”
It all comes back to how it affects the brain, Urrutia said.
“When you drink in excess, it slows down your brain and when you drink in extreme excess, it can shut down parts of your brain,” Urrutia said. “For example, some of the automatic parts of your brain, like breathing.”
Another example is how it affects our epiglottis, which is a flap in the throat that keeps food from entering the windpipe and the lungs.
“When you drink in excess, the part of the brain that controls the epiglottis shuts down,” Urrutia said. “When drinking in excess, it’s inevitable that you’re going to throw up, so when you’re throwing up and this automatic part of your throat isn’t working, you can inhale vomit. It’s extremely dangerous.”
Urrutia said the strongest tool available for prevention is education.
“The question generally is about whose job is it to help our youth know,” Urrutia said. “And overall I think it’s everybody’s job, but starting with the parents is the best way.”
She said parents set the rules, the standards and expectations for their chidlren.
“Whether it’s the sports you’re in, your grades, curfew, dating — add alcohol to that list,” Urrutia said. “Start it there, start talking to them about it when you’re setting those expectations, so when it comes up at school or church or in the news or whatever, it’s not brand new to them, they’ve already learned some of these things.”
Community Connections has a free booklet titled “A parents’ guide for the prevention of alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use.” For information on how to obtain a copy, call 308-696-3358.
To report underage drinking, the hotline number is 1-866-MUST-B-21 (687-8221) or reportunderagedrinking.com and it can be done anonymously.