April is National Alcohol Awareness Month and the focus is on underage drinking.
Alcohol is the drug most frequently used by middle and high school students (approximately 40 per cent), and its use is increasing.
The average age of first use of alcohol for youth in the Cayman Islands is 10 years old.
The prevalence of heavy drinking episodes among our youth has increased significantly from 7.5 per cent in 1998 to 12.6 per cent in 2002.
We expect the results of the student drug use survey conducted earlier this year to show a significant increase over previous years.
Underage drinking is a factor in teen automobile crashes and contributes to youth suicides, homicides and fatal injuries.
Additionally, alcohol abuse is linked to sexual assaults and date rapes of teens and college students and is a major factor in unprotected sex among youth, increasing their risk of contracting HIV or other transmitted diseases.
Sadly, however, our youth lack essential knowledge about alcohol and its effects.
While the issue of underage drinking is a complex problem, one that can only be solved through a sustained and cooperative effort between parents, schools, community leaders, and youth themselves, there are three areas which have proven to be effective in prevention of underage drinking: curtailing the availability of alcohol, consistent enforcement of existing laws and regulations and changing cultural misconceptions and behaviors through education.
Let’s all wake up to this problem and get started on the solution.
We can’t afford to wait any longer.
Catherine A. Chesnut – National Drugs Co-ordinator, National Drug Council of the Cayman Islands