About 5,000 people under the age of 21 die from alcohol-related injuries involving underage drinking each year, according to the U.S. surgeon general. And nearly one-third of those crashes occur during the prom and graduation season of April, May and June, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
But students at Juneau-Douglas High School have been promising not to become a part of that statistic by signing a pledge to remain drug and alcohol free during prom.
Through a grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and the Department of Juvenile Justice, Students Against Destructive Decisions has been hosting a Safe and Sober Prom campaign in an effort to raise awareness about the real-life and legal consequences of underage drinking.
All week, students have pledged to remain alcohol and drug free on prom night. The students receive a bracelet and tips to remain safe and also are entered into a raffle to win a $50 gift certificate donated by Zen Restaurant.
"Drinking could get you killed and people do stupid things; it decreases your judgment," said a junior at JDHS, as he pledged to stay safe and sober.
"When you get drunk you make bad decisions," said another student who also will be attending the Prom on Saturday at Centennial Hall.
"Drinking underage is bad for you and makes you form addictions faster," said a freshman.
Another prom attendee said getting drunk "isn't something I really want to do."
One student said she learned why she should stay sober from her father, who was a heroine addict and her nother who is an alcoholic and that is why she pledged to stay sober.
In addition to the pledge, radio, television, and newspaper ads have been running that speak to the dangers and consequences of underage drinking for youth as well as for adults.
In Alaska, parents or adults who host parties where alcohol is being consumed by underage youth face up to a $500 fine and can be held liable for any resulting accidents, injuries, or crimes committed as a result of that drinking.
Underage drinking is the nation's No. 1 youth drug problem, killing 6.5 times more young people than do all other illicit drugs combined. Heavy drinking is especially dangerous for teenagers, whose brains are still developing, and alcohol-related damage incurred at a young age can have long-term effects.
A recent study by the National Institutes of Health suggests that the region of the brain that inhibits risky behavior is not fully formed until age 25. This information serves as a wakeup call to parents, physicians, elected officials, law enforcement officials, purveyors of alcohol - including the alcohol industry - and teens themselves.
Many people believe that underage drinking is an inevitable "rite of passage" that adolescents can easily recover from because their bodies are more resilient, but the opposite is true. It is critical that parents engage their children in direct and factual conversation about the dangers of underage drinking early and often especially during this perilous time of year.
"One of my friends back East killed herself while she was under the influence, so I realized how dangerous it is to use and that I'm not willing to take the risks involved," said a sophomore.
While underage drinking is a big issue and definitely something to be concerned about, it's also important for young people to know that not everyone is drinking and using drugs, in fact, the majority of kids aren't.
"Drinking sounds prevalent and we hear stories so it makes it sound like it's bigger - it's glorified a lot at the high school," said junior Annie Bartholomew. "Being offered alcohol and drinking alcohol are completely avoidable."
Rebecca Clark is an Americorps VISTA working with the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.
Tips to a safe prom, graduation season
Never get in the car with someone who has beendrinking, even if they seem OK to drive.
Discuss plans, curfews, after-curfew possibilities, etc., before the event, with your date, friends and parents.
Make sure your cell phone is charged and you have extra cash, even if you have a designated driver.
Be prepared to resist peer pressure and practice how you will say "no."
Plan or attend alcohol-free parties and activities.
Be extra careful and aware on the roads.
Statistics on alcohol usage and youth
An estimated 17,602 people died in alcohol-related traffic wrecks - an average of one every 30 minutes - in 2006.
Underage alcohol use is more likely to kill more young people than all illegal drugs combined.
The total cost attributable to the consequences of underage drinking in Alaska is estimated to be $317 million, $3,944 per youth.
11.3 percent of Alaska youth self-reported drinking and driving.
In 2005, teens consumed 19.2 percent of all alcohol sold in Alaska.
Statistics provided by the Youth Risk Behavior Survey and National Highway Safety data.
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