During the next few weeks, billboards promoting a new underage drinking prevention campaign will begin to go up in Columbia and Richmond counties with the message: “You Booze, You Lose...” There will be different images with different messages. For example, there is one that features a picture of a young lady in her cap and gown that says: You Booze, You Lose Focus. A Web site will encourage young people to choosenottolose.com.
This campaign is part of a statewide effort that has been in the planning stages for more than a year. It is being launched now because April is Alcohol Awareness Month, not because we are trying to exploit recent events. The media campaign is funded by the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities.
Our goal is to encourage young people to make the healthiest choice not to drink alcohol before they are legally allowed, and to support parents and other adults in the community who hold that line. We plan to highlight the positive and show teens that staying sober is the norm, and that those who do are way ahead of their peers who don’t.
We realize that we won’t be able to convince everyone that underage drinking is not inevitable or unpreventable. But for those in our community willing to listen, we will present a compelling argument to keep alcohol out of the hands of young people under 21.
Consider these facts: Young people who drink are more likely to be sexually active and to have unsafe, unprotected sex; and are more likely to be involved in a fight, commit violent crimes, fail at school, use other drugs, and experience verbal, physical, or sexual violence. Those who start drinking before age 15 are five times more likely to develop alcoholism later in life than those who begin drinking at age 21, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.
Surveys in our community show that an alarming number of young people seek out their first drink before they turn 13, and that they get the alcohol at home or at a friend’s house. I don’t think anyone thinks it is a good idea for children that age to start experimenting with alcohol.
One reason to support postponing drinking until 21 is that young brains don’t fully develop until their early 20s. Add alcohol and you get seriously poor decision-making. No one wants to see young people ruin their lives for making bad decisions under the influence of alcohol if we have the power to stop it.
While underage drinking is a complex social issue, we know we can reduce the problem by limiting the availability of alcohol, consistently enforcing existing laws and regulations, and changing norms and behaviors through education.
It has taken several decades, but most people appreciate that we no longer allow smoking in restaurants and other public places. Attitudes have changed about tobacco, and we can change minds about underage drinking to create a new normal for our community. Please join the local underage drinking prevention campaign by logging on to www.choosenottolose.com and voicing your support.
Julie K. Miller
(Julie K. Miller is executive director of Columbia County Community Connections. The “You Booze, You Lose” campaign is a partnership between Columbia County Community Connections, Community Resource Center of Glascock County, Georgia Regents University and the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities.)