Thursday, December 22, 2011


If all grownups created holiday wish lists at this time of year, the health and safety of children would surely be one of their most frequent requests. Yet holiday time delivers tragedy to many American families and their communities, thanks in part to the season’s increased rates of excessive alcohol use and underage drinking.

Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) described the challenge in a 2005 op-ed article:
Dancing and prancing through Jingle Bell Square, more than a few seasonal revelers mistake alcohol consumption for holiday celebration—teens included. Following the lead of influential adults, many young people are tempted, even encouraged, to finish up the old and ring in the new by, well, downing a few.

Thanks to concerted efforts by community-based prevention organizations, law enforcement, other community leaders, and family members, progress is being made in reducing underage drinking tragedies. For example, a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration fact sheet reported that fatal crashes involving 15- to 20-year-old drivers who had a blood alcohol content of .01 g/dL or higher dropped from 1,932 in 2000 to 1,210 in 2009—a 37 percent decrease.

Yet holidays seem to invite excess and rule-bending among many people of all ages—a risk for everyone, but particularly for vulnerable children and teens who use alcohol. In a 2010 report, SAMHSA found that on New Year’s Day 2009, there were an estimated 1,980 emergency department visits involving underage drinking compared to 546 such visits on an average day that year—a 263 percent increase. As SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, J.D., said:
This stunning increase in underage drinking related emergency room visits on New Year’s Day should be a wake up call to parents, community leaders and all caring adults about the potential risks our young people face for alcohol-related accidents, injuries and death during this time of year.

As SAMHSA also reminds us, prevention works, and all caring adults can help give young people the gift of health and safety this holiday season, and all year long, by doing their part to prevent underage drinking in their community. From planning an alcohol-safe and drug-free holiday season to modeling and supporting highway safety, we all can do something to protect those we care about—and that’s really worth celebrating.

Helpful Resources
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has useful facts and tips for safe holidays. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration coordinates an annual winter holidays campaign to prevent impaired driving. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers pages of Holiday Health & Safety Tips. Young people can participate in prevention efforts with Holiday Activities developed by SADD.

You may also contact the Van Buren SAFE Coalition for help and information at 319-293-6412 or at The coalition also has resources and information available on the coalition’s website at, it’s blog at, or it’s face book page at Van Buren County SAFE Coalition.

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