Tackling underage drinking in Alabama: Opinion

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 30, 2013

By Joe Godfrey

When I talk to schoolchildren and young adults about the use of alcohol, I give them four sound reasons why they shouldn’t drink.

One, alcohol is a mind-altering and addictive drug. Studies show that young people who start drinking in their teen years are much more likely to become problem drinkers and alcohol dependent. In fact, according to government surveys, of adults who started drinking before age 15, about 40 percent say they have the signs of alcohol dependence. That rate is four times higher than for adults who didn’t drink until they were 21.

Two, alcohol kills. Nationwide, about 5,000 people under the age of 21 die each year from car crashes, homicides, suicides, alcohol poisoning and a variety of injuries as a direct result of underage drinking, reports the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Three, alcohol is costly. I don’t mean in the price of a bottle of beer, wine or liquor. I mean in the economic costs resulting from the problems associated with drinking. Underage drinking alone cost U.S. citizens $62 billion in 2010, according to the Underage Drinking Enforcement Training Center. Those costs include medical care, work loss, and pain and suffering associated with the use of alcohol by youths. In Alabama, the tab tops $1 billion.

And four, alcohol makes you do bad things. From committing crimes and violent acts, to driving while intoxicated, to engaging in risky behavior and promiscuity, you just aren’t yourself when you drink. Under the influence of alcohol, people do things they ordinarily would never do. Alcohol brings out the worst in you, not the best.

When it comes to alcohol, the Alabama Citizens Action Program advocates abstinence for everyone. The message about the dangers alcohol poses to those under age is one our young people especially need to hear.

That is why I am pleased the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board has launched a new initiative, “Under Age, Under Arrest,” with the purpose of reducing underage and binge drinking. And it is why ALCAP has joined the ABC Board and other state agencies and organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving in this campaign to convince students to say no to alcohol.

To some, ALCAP and the ABC Board may seem a strange alliance. They see the ABC Board as only a vehicle through which the state of Alabama sells liquor.

However, they miss the bigger picture. Alabama is not in the “liquor business.” Through the ABC Board, Alabama is in the “alcoholic beverage CONTROL business.”

The repeal of Prohibition in the 1930s gave states the authority to regulate, control and limit the flow of alcoholic beverages. Alabama wisely established the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to regulate alcohol for the benefit and safety of its citizens.

And it’s working for the citizens of Alabama.

Alabama ranks 48th among the states in consumption of alcohol per adult, but it’s at the top in tax revenue per unit of alcohol sold. That means our system of control nets the most revenue to help pay for essential state services without having to push liquor sales.

Conversely, non-control states generally have more stores selling liquor, with those stores offering their products at expanded hours – some 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Those states also are bombarded with more alcohol advertising and promotions, to which children are especially susceptible.

It is children and young adults that the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board is trying to save from the dangers of alcohol. Their young bodies, developing brains and level of maturity are poorly suited to handle such an addictive and powerful drug.

We want Alabama’s young people to live alcohol-free. Achieving that requires organizations all working to spread the message that alcohol and youth simply don’t mix.

Joe Godfrey of Birmingham is executive director of Alabama Citizens Action Program and American Character Builders (www.alcap.com).