Alcoholism and drug abuse have haunted my family for years. I’ve been in recovery for just about 30 years but I’m not alone in my family. Anonymity disallows further disclosure but trust me, I know about addiction first hand and even as I write this another family member is suffering and causing suffering. I hate the disease with every fiber in my body and I know how hard it is to fight it.
Alcohol is a drug. It is no different than heroin or cocaine or Dilaudid or Oxycontin. They are all addictive drugs and they ruin lives and kill people. Those are facts. Here’s another fact. There is an alcohol and drug abuse epidemic among young people in America today.
Each day more than 13,000 children and teens take their first drink
7 million (26 percent) of public school students age 12-17 say their school is both gang and drug infected.
Teens who see their parents drunk are more than twice as likely to get drunk in a month and three times likelier to use marijuana and smoke cigarettes
In 2009 more than one third of teens (8.7 million) said they can get prescription drugs to get high within a day and nearly one in five said they could get them in an hour.
Now, you may ask yourself why a blog about organ donation and transplantation is focusing on alcohol. The answer is simple. Alcohol can and does destroy human organs. If Americans could better control their alcohol consumption the number of people who need organ transplants would drop considerably. Here are just a few of the effects of prolonged alcohol and drug abuse:’
The brain — confusion and memory loss. Changes in sensation and numbness.
Scarring of the liver called cirrhosis which can lead to death.
Disease of the pancreas and stomach even stomach cancer
Heart irregularities and weakening leading to death (my alcoholism could have contributed to my need for a heart transplant).
Upset the body’s natural control of blood fats and blood sugar levels.
Bone thinning called osteoporosis
Long-term use of alcohol and drugs in excessive quantities is capable of damaging nearly every organ and system in the body.
Now, back to the epidemic amongst our youth. Let’s just focus on alcohol. Underage drinkers account for 11.4 percent of all the alcohol consumed in the U.S., according to Teen Tipplers: America’s Underage Drinking Epidemic, a report released by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
The report found that more than five million high schoolers (31 percent) say they binge drink at least once a month. The gender gap in alcohol consumption that for generations separated girls and boys has disappeared among younger teens: male and female ninth graders are just as likely to drink (40 percent vs. 41 percent) and to binge drink (22 percent vs. 20 percent), the news release said.
But let’s not depend on just once source. Here’s what the National Institute On Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) says about young teens and alcohol and the related risks.
“For young people, alcohol is the drug of choice. In fact, alcohol is used by more young people than tobacco or illicit drugs. Although most children under age 14 have not yet begun to drink, early adolescence is a time of special risk for beginning to experiment with alcohol.
While some parents and guardians may feel relieved that their teen is “only” drinking, it is important to remember that alcohol is a powerful, mood-altering drug. Not only does alcohol affect the mind and body in often unpredictable ways, but teens lack the judgment and coping skills to handle alcohol wisely. As a result:
Alcohol-related traffic crashes are a major cause of death among young people. Alcohol use also is linked with teen deaths by drowning, suicide, and homicide.
Teens who use alcohol are more likely to be sexually active at earlier ages, to have sexual intercourse more often, and to have unprotected sex than teens who do not drink.
Young people who drink are more likely than others to be victims of violent crime, including rape, aggravated assault, and robbery.
Teens who drink are more likely to have problems with school work and school conduct.
The majority of boys and girls who drink tend to binge (5 or more drinks on an occasion for boys and 4 or more on an occasion for girls) when they drink.
A person who begins drinking as a young teen is four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than someone who waits until adulthood to use alcohol.
The message is clear: Alcohol use is very risky business for young people. And the longer children delay alcohol use, the less likely they are to develop any problems associated with it. That’s why it is so important to help your child avoid any alcohol use.
So you say, “Ok, but what can I do about it. If kids want to drink they’ll find a way.” And you are right. But often one of the ways they find to drink is through family members. Over 70% of eighth graders say alcohol is easy to get and 30% of children age 12-14 get alcohol from a family member.
It’s also wise to use some common sense and remember that as parents you are role models. Your drinking habits are closely observed by your children whether you think so or not.
There is help and advice from many sectors…SAMSHSA for one (SAMSHSA is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Government.) http://underagedrinking.samhsa.gov/ Hers’ what they say.
Between the ages of 9 and 13, children start to think differently about alcohol. Many children begin to think underage drinking is OK and some even start to experiment. It’s never too early to talk to your children about alcohol, and encourage them to talk with you. Over 70% of children say parents are the leading influence in their decision to drink or not.
Lots of little talks are more effective than one “big talk.”
Sitting down for the “big talk” about alcohol can be intimidating for both you and your child. Try using everyday opportunities to talk – in the car, during dinner, or while you and your child are watching TV. Having lots of little talks takes the pressure off trying to get all of the information out in one lengthy discussion, and your child will be less likely to tune you out.
When you do talk about alcohol, make your views and rules clear.
Take the time to discuss your beliefs and opinions about alcohol with your child. Be honest and express a clear, consistent message that underage drinking is unacceptable. When they feel that you’re being real and honest with them, they’ll be more likely to respect your rules about underage drinking.3
Family, peers, school, and the community all play a role in your child’s decision to drink. In fact, most children who use alcohol get it from a friend or family member.1 To ensure these people become positive role models for your child, let them know how you feel about underage drinking.
I have always contended that the best way to solve the organ shortage is to live healthier lives. That means we have to start at a very early age. Parents must teach their children about drugs and alcohol as soon and as often as possible. If we don’t get a handle on this problem every other problem we have in our society will get worse.
Bob Aronson, a 2007 heart transplant recipient is the founder of Facebook’s 1700 member Organ Transplant Initiative and the writer of these donation/transplantation blogs on Bob’s Newheart.
You may comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And – please spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors. There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance. If you convince one person to be an organ and tissue donor you may save or positively affect over 60 lives. Some of those lives may be people you know and love.
Please view our video “Thank You From the Bottom of my Donor’s heart” on www.organti.org This video was produced to promote organ donation so it is free and no permission is needed for its use.
If you want to spread the word personally about organ donation, we have a PowerPoint slide show for your use free and for use without permission. Just go to www.organti.org and click on “Life Pass It On” on the left side of the screen and then just follow the directions. This is NOT a stand-alone show, it needs a presenter but is professionally produced and factually sound.
Also…there is more information on this blog site about other donation/transplantation issues. Additionally we would love to have you join our Facebook group, Organ Transplant Initiative The more members we get the greater our clout with decision makers.