Local efforts focus on youth theme for National Alcohol Awareness Month

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence has sponsored April as National Alcohol Awareness Month since 1987. This year's theme focuses on early education about alcohol and addiction. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol is the most commonly used and abused drug in the United States and despite laws against underage drinking, 12- to 20-year-olds drink 11% of all alcohol consumed in the United States.

Allamakee Substance Abuse Prevention (ASAP) Coordinator Jean Bossom is working to reduce underage drinking using Project Northland, an alcohol prevention program geared toward middle school children. "ASAP uses the sixth grade curriculum to provide grade-specific lessons and activities to target students before they typically start using alcohol to prevent or delay the onset of their use," Bossom said. "This curriculum is currently being taught by me in all three school districts in Allamakee County, including St. Pat's."
Research findings indicate that "alcohol is the drug of choice for American teenagers, and alcohol use during early adolescence increases the likelihood of progression to heavy alcohol use and to the use of other illicit drugs," according to Project Northland developers. It is also believed that the influence of peers, family members, school, the media and the community have been shown to play a critical role in promoting or discouraging alcohol use among teens, leading Project Northland to focus on engaging not only youth but also schools, families, and the larger community in one comprehensive prevention effort.
As a culmination to the classroom activities locally, ASAP sponsors an all-day event to celebrate the Project Northland program and to promote an alcohol-free lifestyle with activities at Village Creek Bible Camp in rural Lansing. Students have the opportunity to participate in camp activities as well as activities provided by community members to demonstrate a variety of fun alternatives that students can take part in that don’t involve the use of alcohol. Those volunteers that provide activities for youth, in addition to those provided by Village Creek Bible Camp, include: Allamakee County Extension/4-H, the Waukon Wellness Center, Allamakee County Conservation, Allamakee County Emergency Management, the Allamakee County Sheriff’s Department and Allamakee Substance Abuse Prevention. High school students from all three school districts also assist with this event by being group leaders and positive role models for students.
The Project Northland Day will be held Tuesday, May 5 from 9 a.m. to  2:30 p.m. at Village Creek Bible Camp.

Locally, Allamakee County has recently been awarded grant funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration due to the high rates of alcohol use and binge drinking rates among eighth and eleventh graders within the county, along with other factors. The five-year Partnerships for Success grant is designed to meet the single goal of reducing underage drinking among 12- to 20-year-olds with a focus on youth binge drinking. With that grant funding just recently being distributed, Maxine Grotegut, the coordinator of the Partnerships for Success program in Allamakee County, said that strategies are being developed at the state level for later implementation.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving has developed handbooks to educate parents about how to talk to their middle school and high school children about alcohol. These handbooks can be downloaded at www.madd.org/underage-drinking/the-power-of-parents or are available by calling 877-MADD-HELP.