AUGUSTA – September is Alcohol Awareness Month, and Maine’s Underage Drinking Task Force has come together to plan and ensure the coordination of Maine’s underage drinking prevention and enforcement efforts.

Alcohol use by young people has life-damaging consequences, especially for those who start to drink before the age of 15.

The human brain continues to mature until the mid-20s and drinking before it’s fully developed changes the way it works.

Alcohol impairs teenagers’ ability to react, to make good judgments and to remember lessons.

Alcohol use prevents maturity — the very thing kids are after when they drink — and the very thing you hope they’ll achieve and society needs them to reach.

The four A’s can help parents remember the risk factors for underage drinking that can be easily manipulated through parental and business controls.

Availability: Is the alcohol (beer, wine, liquor) within reach?

Accessibility: Can the youth get to the alcohol easily?

Acceptability: How “acceptable” does the youth perceive alcohol use to be?

Alcohol is part of every aspect of our culture — popular movies and TV shows, community festivals and fairs. Youth may think “everybody’s doing it” and the adults in their lives condone it.

n Affordability: Does the youth have enough money to buy the alcohol?

When beer, wine, and liquor are in the fridge or in unlocked cabinets, they are available to young, inquisitive minds. The temptation to experiment with alcohol becomes greater, and much more likely if unsupervised.

Adolescents in treatment often identify home as the first place they got their alcohol, and as early as age 7. Even if there isn’t alcohol in your home, it might be available at friends of your child’s.

Homes are not the only places youths can get alcohol products. Alcoholic products, especially alcopops and other drinks that are popular with teenagers, seem to be everywhere.

In Maine, 35 percent of 9th through 12th graders admit to having at least one drink in the past 30 days, and 21 percent report having had five or more drinks in a row in the past month.

More than 65 percent of Maine high schoolers believe it is easy to get alcohol if they wanted some and about 15 percent believe they will get caught by the police if they drink.

What can you do?

Make sure your alcohol is out of reach in your home. Keep close tabs on the amount you have. This is especially important if children are in the home unsupervised for periods of time.

Don’t serve your child alcohol in the home. This sends the message that underage drinking is acceptable in your household and may be elsewhere, too.

Tell children that underage drinking is against the law and educate them about the consequences when they are caught by law enforcement.

Ask stores to keep close watch on their stock, to check the ID of everyone and train their employees.

Get to know the parents of your children’s friends, work through the free downloadable Discussion Guide on Childhood Drinking, set some common rules.

Talk with your kids early and often about your expectations for them and how they can meet those goals.

Check out Internet resources that are at your fingertips, such as: www.alcoholfreechildren.org, www.stopalcoholabuse.gov or www.maineparents.net to get all the tools you need to get started!

We welcome you to join our efforts to prevent and reduce childhood drinking. Seek out your local Healthy Maine Partnership (www.healthymainepartnerships.org) to join your local coalition’s efforts.

You are the No. 1 reason your children will say, “No thanks, not tonight.” Give them the courage and the reason to live a healthy and long life.

– Special to The Press Herald