District Health Department takes steps to curb underage drinking

LAKE COUNTY —  Prom, graduation, holidays, parties — these celebrations are all on the horizon, but along with all the fun times they bring, they often can bring a less welcome side effect: underage drinking.

This is one of the primary reasons April has been designated as "Social Host Awareness Month" in the state of Michigan. This means organizations such as District Health Department No. 10 are making a special effort to discourage adults from enabling underage drinking or allowing it to take place in their homes.

"Social Hosting has to do with youth attaining alcohol through adults," explained Quran Griffin, Health Educator for DHD10. "We're really talking about any situation where adults allow kids to drink alcohol. Wether it is teens paying an adult money to buy them alcohol or a parent allowing it to happen under their roof but taking their keys away, it is still dangerous and still illegal."

In the state of Michigan it is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to consume alcohol. It also is illegal for adults to provide alcohol or allow minors to consume alcohol in their homes. The employees of District Health Department No. 10 said while fines and penalties may vary depending on the violation, all charges can have a detrimental impact on an individual’s future.

For youth, these penalties could mean the loss of scholarships or the ability to participate in activities. For adults, a fine may seem minor, but if an underage drinker passes away from alcohol poisoning, the adult may be held responsible for their death. This is an extreme circumstance, but one that is possible.

The DHD10 staff is working to provide west Michigan residents with tools to combat the problem of underage drinking and working with parents to educate them on the dangers of allowing kids to drink. They will go into schools to perform presentations for students and staff members, distribute handout materials, explain risk factors and dangers and share ways to say "no" with students.

One of the programs they are offering is an innovative program called Table Talks. Table Talks is a facilitated discussion about social hosting laws, individual expectations and family rules, and a secure place to talk honestly around peers about expectations regarding underage drinking.

"A parent hosts one of these table talks, while a facilitator like me attends," said Griffin. "Other parents are invited and they can come together to discuss substance abuse in our community in a comfortable and relaxed environment."

This program is free of charge and can be held almost anywhere — like coffee shops, individuals' homes or even the health department conference room — and anytime. Those who would like to learn more about Table Talks can contact Melanie Perry at (231) 316-8567.

For parents having trouble finding ways to talk to their teen about the dangers of underage drinking, the DHD10 recommends the TalkSooner app. This app can provide parents and other concerned adults with reliable information and tips to start a conversation. Research shows that youth who discuss the risks of drugs and alcohol use with a parental figure are less likely to engage in drug and alcohol use.

"It is for iPhones and Android devices and is free," said Griffin. "It was put in place by the Lake Shore Regional Partners and we have access to it now. It is a tool for parents to become educated or get rid of myths surrounding certain substances. It also has advice to help talk to teens about these topics."

Griffin said what is at the heart of the issue is safety, for both children and adults.

"Anytime we start putting these substances into our body, we don't know how they can affect us, and this is especially true with teens," she remarked. "It can affect their bodies, lower inhibitions and have adverse medical reactions. Even with parents present, you never know what can happen as a result of that. We just want to keep our youth safe and our parents safe as well."