Opinion: Let’s set the right example for Truckee-Tahoe teens
June brings that special time of year that recognizes graduation of our children from their various ranks in the schools. As we prepare to celebrate those special events, I observe that they are almost always associated with alcohol.
What I reflect upon is how and what we as a society have role modeled to our children. Our celebration of academic successes, and benchmarks in sports and other accomplishments, are identified with alcohol.
I’m not sure that I can recall how or when we relaxed our social norms to the extent that alcohol became such a part of our acknowledgement of our children’s academic achievements or synonymous with post-game sporting events.
The availability of alcohol by adolescents is opportune through various means including tacitly by adults. Within a 2014 educational impact report on alcohol education, students participating in the survey reported their most common means of obtaining alcohol was from home.
We have good reason for concern. Adolescents who use alcohol and other drugs are at a significantly greater risk of developing an addiction compared to adults, and the earlier that use begins, the more likely adolescents are to develop an addiction.
Adolescents who use any addictive substance before they are 15 years old are 6.5 times more likely to develop a substance use disorder compared to those who wait until 21.
In addition to an increased risk of addiction, tobacco, alcohol and other drug use are associated with various mental health problems including personality disorders, anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation in adolescents.
Throughout our Truckee/North Tahoe region, our teen and adult drinking and drug use exceeds state of California and national comparisons. Binge drinking, defined as drinking 5 or more drinks in a short amount of time, is a particularly high-risk form of drinking.
According to a TTUSD California Healthy Kids Survey in 2014, 32% of Tahoe-Truckee 11th-grade youth engaged in binge drinking during a 30-day period; and according to a 2014 Tahoe Forest Hospital District Community Health Needs Assessment, 30% of adults reported binge drinking in a 30-day period.
Additionally reported in the 2014 data from the California Healthy Kids Survey, the percentage of students in the TTUSD who have used alcohol or other drugs (AODs) in the past 30 days for 9th graders (39%) and 11th graders (54%), they both significantly surpassed state percentages and the National Healthy People 2020 target level of 16.6% for adolescents ages 12-17.
The physical and mental health consequences of early alcohol consumption are well documented and unfortunately set our communities’ youth on a trajectory of future health problems.
Truckee made great strides forward in 2015 when a Social Host Liability Ordinance (Teen Party Law) was passed that prohibits any person from hosting, or allowing, a party on premises under their control, where minors are using or possessing alcohol, marijuana or controlled substances.
A violation occurs even if the person responsible for the gathering did not intend for this, but did nothing to stop or prevent it.
Community focus through the Tahoe-Truckee Future Without Drug Dependence and the Community Collaborative of Tahoe Truckee prioritize reducing easy youth access to alcohol, Rx drugs and marijuana as well as changing the social norms that promote drug and alcohol use as a necessary component of having fun or reducing stress.
The TTUSD, with many community partners, has been diligent in targeting specific strategic interventions to address alcohol education and healthy lifestyles. They continue to institute new programs such as Athlete Committed to reach out and engage strong role models and leaders.
Our investment in our town’s youth and young adults depends upon our respect for their brain development, our behaviors associated with the use of substances, and observance of our local laws.
We need to recognize that one of the most powerful assets of our graduates in their advancement from high school is their entry into adult decisions and behaviors that include choices in alcohol and drug use.
Let us take the lead in setting a tradition of celebration that acknowledges our young adult successes and upholds our commitment to their development of healthy behaviors.
Caroline Ford is an Emeritus Faculty of the University of Nevada, Reno, School of Medicine in Frontier and Rural Health and a community volunteer board member of the Tahoe-Truckee Future Without Drug Dependence. Visit ttfwdd.com to learn more.