The Edmond Sun

August 31, 2012

Coalition discusses underage drinking

Jessica Bruha
McClatchy

Norman — “Would you rather swim with sharks, jump off a roof or eat a bug?” This is a question Oklahoma City Police Department Chaplain Sgt. Greg Giltner said they often ask youth when discussing underage drinking.

“Kids struggled with this question,” Giltner said. “We use this scenario to build off of, and when you add alcohol, the other two choices become easy on a dare.”

What many teens do not realize is that alcohol is a drug, he said. It impairs driving and functions of the human body just like any other drug substance, natural or synthetic.

Giltner and many others spoke at a town hall meeting Monday at Norman Regional Hospital to discuss the effects underage drinking has on the community.

National statistics show that most youth have their first drink at age 12. Youth who begin drinking before age 13 are three times more likely to commit suicide and become a victim of dating and peer violence later on. Youth who begin drinking before age 15 are 11 times more likely to engage in alcohol-related violence later on, Giltner said.

Dr. Belinda Biscoe, assistance vice president of the University of Oklahoma College of Continuing Education who helped develop the first prevention program in Oklahoma City public schools, also spoke at the meeting.

Biscoe said the cavalier attitude many people have about underage drinking has an impact on young people and brings a lot of harm. She recalled being a witness in a federal court case where she was asked a question about whether she thought it was OK for parents to give their children alcohol.

“You’re asking me if I think it’s OK for parents to give kids an illegal drug?” Biscoe said.

Her question during the trial made the courtroom go silent, she said.

Giltner said the problem is alcohol is legal, which means people can buy it and it is accessible.

While alcohol is legal, Norman Police Officer Lt. Chris Dirck said police often do compliance checks and check every Norman business at least twice. When compliance checks were started, only 50 percent of businesses were in compliance. Last year, compliance was 80 percent.

The police department also tries to constantly educate businesses in the community about fake IDs, he said.

So why is the legal drinking age limit set at 21?

Because the brain has not fully developed. Giltner said it isn’t until about age 24 that the brain is “finally there.”

Underage drinking affects how well a young person judges risks and makes decisions because of the effects it has on the brain.

So, if young people already struggle answering a question about whether swimming with sharks, jumping off a roof or eating a bug would be the better decision, alcohol is not going to help them make even tougher decisions such as getting into a car with a drunk driver or driving drunk.

The coalition will meet again to discuss underage drinking at 2 p.m. Sept. 27 in the Norman Regional Hospital meeting room.

For more information, call Shelly Douglas, prevention specialist at the University of Oklahoma,at 325-2406 or email her at shelly.douglas@ou.edu.

Jessica Bruha 366-3540 jbruha@normantranscript.com