To the editor:
Peer reviewed studies have demonstrated that if an American child begins drinking under the age of 14, the odds of that person becoming an alcoholic are nearly 50 percent. For every added year of age before beginning to drink, the odds go down until if one begins at the legal age of 21, when the odds are "only" 10 percent.
Yet adults in our community often do not perceive the risk to youth of using alcohol. And even when they have concerns, they also have doubts. I have heard statements such as "I drank when I was a teen...Better they drink safe at home and I can ensure they don't drink and drive...There's no real difference between drinking at 18 and 21" from thoughtful and engaged parents.
Our youth receive and internalize these mixed messages. Student health surveys of youth in North Berkshire County clearly indicate two risk factors for substance abuse: First, youth don't perceive clear indications that adults in the community find substance use by youth unacceptable. Second, they do not perceive that they are harming themselves by using alcohol and other drugs.
But alcohol IS harmful. Using substances while the brain is still developing puts youth at a much greater risk of experimenting with illegal drugs and also of developing a substance use disorder (addiction).
The scourge of the opiate epidemic and the toll on human lives wracks many of us in Berkshire County with fear and anxiety, but what we don't see is that our best bet for preventing tomorrow's heroin overdose and death is to let our teens know it's not safe to experiment with alcohol and drugs.
To learn more about this issue from a panel of local experts, I encourage everyone — including youth ages 9 and up — to attend a panel and community discussion about preventing youth substance abuse at Mount Greylock Middle and High School in Williamstown Wednesday night at 6 p.m. Speakers will include Dr. Jennifer Michaels, medical director at the Brien Center, who will speak about brain development and addiction; Dr. Thomas Hyde, who will speak about the opioid issue and risks to youth, and Berkshire District Attorney David Capeless, will talk about social hosting laws, among other topics. Local law enforcement will also be present.
The forum is sponsored by the Mt. Greylock PTO and Northern Berkshire Community Coalition. Refreshments will be provided and childcare is available up on request. Registration is encouraged at www.nbccoalition.org.
Anyone in North Berkshire County interested in becoming involved in local efforts to reduce youth substance abuse should contact the nbCC to join our local working group.
The writer is director of Prevention Programs, Northern Berkshire Community Coalition.