Posted 4/21/10 (Wed)
By Tina Foreman
Farmer Staff Writer
Alcohol is the number one drug of choice among the nation’s youth and it often has serious, lifelong, consequences for them, their families and their communities. For most residents of a small community, like Watford City, it’s easy to look at national statistics and think that things are different at home. And when it comes to underage drinking, they are. The number of Watford City High School students who are drinking is 10 percent higher than the national average. Not a statistic for the community to be proud of.
Since 1987, Alcohol Awareness Month, sponsored by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) has been observed every April. The focus of this year’s observance is underage drinking, a problem that shatters young lives and communities across the nation. Motor vehicle crashes, alcohol poisoning, violence, and addiction are just some of the ways children under age 21 are being devastated by the inappropriate and illegal use of alcohol.
The extent of alcohol consumption by McKenzie County teenagers is startling.
“When I look at the data on underage drinking in Watford City, it truly alarms me,” says Tom Volk, Region 1 Prevention coordinator. “Underage drinking is a state and national problem; it’s by no means limited to Watford City. But the statistics show that the problem here is much worse than in other areas.”
According to the NCADD, three million children ages 14 through 17 are regular drinkers who already have a confirmed alcohol problem. According to the At Risk Youth Survey conducted at Watford City High School, 20 percent of the students claim to have drunk alcohol between six and nine days out of the past 30 days and 1.4 percent had at least one drink every day.
“The scariest part about the Watford City High School statistics is the number of students who are drinking and binge drinking on a regular basis,” adds Volk. “Those statistics show that the majority of the kids drinking are far past the experimental stages and into the area of problem drinkers.”
Although the number of high school students who are drinking in Watford City is very high, there are still things that can be done to help control the problem, if not for these students, at least for the next ones.
“Underage drinking is reaching epidemic proportions,” adds Slade Herfindahl. “It was around when I was a kid and it will continue to be around. However, today underage drinking is a widely accepted thing. When I was a kid if you got a minor, people looked at you differently. Today it is considered to be cool among teenagers, and part of the problem is that the parents and community are more accepting of it. If we want to change the problem, we need to change the way of thinking.”
Changing the way of thinking is something that the McKenzie County Coalition, (MC3) is hoping that with the help of Volk, they can do.
“People don’t want to see kids drinking, but what I see in this community is a lot of permissive attitudes,” states Volk. “That is something that I hope to help the community change by raising awareness of the problem.”
In addition to raising awareness, Volk and MC3 hope to educate the community on the risks associated with underage drinking and change some of the laws making it less appealing to help youth get alcohol or allow them to drink.
“If we get the entire community involved then we can help reduce the statistics for upcoming generations,” suggests Volk.
Alcohol consumption is one of the leading causes of death and injury among teenagers. If you haven’t talked to your kids about underage drinking, use the month of April to start, and if you’ve already began talking to your kids, use this month as a reminder to talk to them again. Experts say the number one deterrent to underage drinking is having parents who talk to their teens about the dangers. Call 1-800-729-6686 for tips on how to get the conversation started.