PORTLAND – Alcohol is so pervasive in our society that most of us don’t see its negative impacts until something or someone makes headlines, proving no one is immune from abusing alcohol.
We are reminded of this every time bad things happen to good people while under the influence. The question is, if we all know this, why do car crashes, underage parties, homicides, drownings, falls and a host of unintended consequences continue? Who is responsible?
Certainly, the primary person responsible is consumers themselves. But the bottom line is that we are all responsible for keeping alcohol out of the hands of youth and ensuring the safe and proper consumption of alcohol by adults.
So how do we do this? In Cumberland County, liquor licensees, law enforcement, schools, faith communities, media, youth groups and many other community groups have been working on this issue for a long time. Prevention is not a “one-and-done” effort.
Every year there are new teenagers, new parents of teenagers, new 21-year-olds, new liquor licensees, new school personnel, new law enforcement officers and new challenges. There is also the constant bombardment of advertisements, product placements and social conventions that put alcohol front and center.
Luckily, we have learned a thing or two about what works.
Alcohol consumption, while advertised as great fun, can come with real consequences for servers and consumers. The majority of our liquor licensees own well-run and respectable establishments. Identifying fake IDs is becoming harder, but the tools and training to spot them are becoming more sophisticated.
For those nursing that third glass, a server trained to identify visibly intoxicated patrons can respond appropriately — or even avoid overservice.
There are many opportunities for responsible beverage service training in Cumberland County and throughout the state. 21 Reasons, Casco Bay CAN and Communities Promoting Health coalitions often offer thia training either free or at low cost, and the state website also provides listings at www.maine.gov/dps/liqr/contact.html#training.
Training alone will not stop alcohol abuse, but those who sell alcohol are the first line of defense.
Another ingredient that keeps alcohol consumption safe is not looking at alcohol sales as an economic generator. In fact, it is quite the opposite. In the long run, increasing alcohol sales are an expense we cannot afford. Alcohol abuse and misuse are tied to higher health care costs, higher absenteeism, lower productivity and diminished prospects.
Access to alcohol is easy enough. Youth count it as one of the most easily accessed substances of abuse. In Maine, 67 percent of students in grades 9-12 reported it would be easy or sort of easy to get alcohol.
If youth can get it, adults have no trouble. The kicker is that youth who report alcohol is easy to get are three times as likely to drink. The earlier someone drinks, the more likely they are become alcohol dependent as adults.
One of the best ways to keep the alcohol industry healthy and safe is a comprehensive statewide liquor regulatory and enforcement agency. Maine’s was dissolved in 2004.
Some states use profits from state liquor sales to fund substance abuse prevention, intervention, treatment, education and enforcement. This structure looks promising as a way to avoid the high economic costs that can accompany alcohol abuse and misuse.
Parents are the No. 1 influence on a youth’s decision not to drink or do drugs. Surveys of Portland parents conducted between 2004 and 2011 show that 95 percent of parents think it is very important to do everything possible to prevent their teens from drinking, but they don’t always know the most effective actions to take.
• Get to know, and talk to, other parents, especially the parents of your kid’s friends.
• Check in on your child — what are they doing, where and with whom?
• Set clear rules.
• When they make mistakes, and they will, consistently follow up with fair consequences.
• Don’t forget to lock up and count your alcohol.
At school, teachers, administrators, coaches and support staff need to educate our students on the realistic risks and consequences of alcohol abuse, model healthy ways to celebrate and reduce stress, and know when and how to address substance abuse at the first sign of trouble.
Most importantly, we need to keep an open and honest dialogue. Nothing ever got better by not talking about it.
So who is responsible? We all are. What can we do? Back each other up.
Jo Morrissey is project manager for 21 Reasons, a coalition to prevent underage drinking.