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The Journal Gazette

  • File Binge drinking can lead to serious consequences, even more so for the underdeveloped teenage or young adult brain.

  • Lerch

Sunday, September 10, 2017 1:00 am

Preventing alcohol abuse is in the cards

Showing an ID - no matter your age - is a simple, proven way to help curb youth misuse

Jerri Lerch

As an adult who is well over the age of 21, are you offended when you are asked for your ID card when you buy alcohol? Are you flattered that someone thinks you might be just that youthful?

For many years, ID carding for individuals younger than 21 was at the retailer's discretion. Frequently, people look older or younger than their actual age. For a short while, Indiana required 100 percent ID carding, and the documented rate of youth using alcohol dropped in half. Retailers liked not having to make embarrassing personal decisions to ask for IDs, blaming the need to ask on the law. There were complaints from some senior citizens who felt affronted. Indiana retailers now “card” anyone who appears younger than 40.

Kudos to the caring retailers who continue the “card everyone” policy. But even with these efforts, Allen County high school seniors report monthly alcohol use to be 36.1 percent, which is 12 percent higher than the Indiana state rate and 9 percent higher than the national rate. The good news is that alcohol is a controlled substance, is illegal for anyone younger than 21, and that the majority of our youth wisely choose not to drink at all.

The National Institute on Alcochol Abuse and Alcoholism finds that the more alcohol is available (whether by low price, location, concentration and/or more hours and days of sales), the result is an increase in underage drinking and adult alcoholism. Most youth get alcohol from homes, family and friends. Research tells us that proportionally fewer youth drink alcohol than do adults, but during drinking episodes youth drink substantially more. They drink to be drunk and vulnerable.

Binge drinking, defined to be four or five measured drinks in two hours, puts more alcohol into the body than it can metabolize. Binge drinking leads to being out of mental and physical control, passing out when the brain, and sometimes other systems of the body, begins to shut down, leading to alcohol poisoning deaths. Those who begin binge drinking before age 16 are five times more likely to have career, legal, financial and relationship impairments for the rest of their lives than those youth who do not. Alcohol and drug abuse is a numbing escape, arresting emotional and social growth. Family members sadly watch beloved youth grow into adults who struggle to maintain jobs, marriages or be present for their own children.

Newer research indicates that the human brain is not fully developed, thus more vulnerable to chemical damage from alcohol and other substances, until the age of 25. Any parent, neighbor, coach or teacher can attest that the forehead, where judgment centers reside, is the last part of the brain to develop. The teen brain loves the emotional rush but has little “braking” capability. It's why teenagers are notorious for their thrill-seeking acts such as driving too fast, jumping off high places and taking other risks. It's why car rental agencies require mature, educated professional young adults to be 25 years old before they allow them to lease. It's why vulnerable youth wake up to find unwanted pictures and posts on social media that damage their reputation. It's why teens and young adults who binge drink can fall off spring break hotel balconies, lose college scholarships or professional credentials, drive cars and boats recklessly to the point of harming themselves and others, have unwanted sex, find themselves violating laws, damaging property or engaging in violence. With all of our investment for teens to be educated, to excel, to develop mature and successful lifestyles, there is no amount of alcohol that is safe or legal for youth in any location.

Alcohol remains a gateway drug for youth and adults to be receptive to stronger, and very often illegal, life-changing drugs. It is incumbent for all caring adults to protect the future of our youth by limiting access to alcohol, locking it up and being role models. They are watching us. The next time someone asks to check your ID when you purchase alcohol to drink sensibly, absorb the compliment and be flattered. Thank the clerk and congratulate yourself for protecting our laws and, more importantly, protecting our youth and their futures. 

Jerri Lerch is executive director of the Allen County Drug & Alcohol Consortium, which works with more than 130 agencies and organizations to reduce the negative effects of drugs and alcohol, with a focus on protecting our youth.