Home Commentary Op-ed Teen Summit Deals with Alcohol and Drug Problems

Teen Summit Deals with Alcohol and Drug Problems


July 20, 2005 – Many people are wondering what is happening to the young people of the Virgin Islands. There is so much violence and killing, too much for our small, tightly knit community to sustain. According to an unofficial count I made looking through the reported homicides in the territory, there have been approximately 15 violent deaths of youth under the age of 25 recorded since January 2005. I am sure many of these victims and perpetrators have juvenile records that are not revealed to the public. So it is safe to assume that the majority of offenders we see have been through the system for several years while they were minors.
On July 22 – 24, the St. Croix Unity Coalition will host its 5th Annual Teen Summit. The theme for this year's summit is "A Sobering Lesson on Underage Drinking." Over 90 adolescents, ages 11-18, will attend workshops featuring motivational, interactive messages and activities focusing on living healthy, safe, drug and violence free lives. The intent of the summit is to educate V.I. youth on the harmful effects of underage drinking. There is a movement in the Virgin Islands to raise the drinking age from the current age of 18 because the lackadaisical attitude of our society towards underage drinking may well be a major cause of youth violence. Information disseminated at the Teen Summit will seek to support this premise.
Take some time to absorb the following information. It may provide some insight on the cause of problems we are having with our young people in the territory.
According to information gathered by the SAMHSA's National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information, research shows that young people who drink alcohol are more likely to suffer from the dangers of alcohol abuse. These include driving under the influence of alcohol, accidental injuries, violent behavior and risky sexual behavior.
The same research shows that adolescents who drink alcohol may cause permanent damage to their brain. Did you know that your brain is still maturing and is not fully formed until a person is almost in his or her 20's? During the teenage years, dramatic changes occur in the frontal lobe and an area called the hippocampus. These parts of the brain are associated with motivation, impulse control and addiction.
Adolescents are more sensitive to the learning and memory problems caused by alcohol; they only need to drink half as much as adults do to be affected. Drinking in teenagers can damage the parts of the brain that are involved in memory, and emotions and damage to them could be responsible for memory problems, dependence, inability to learn, depression and problems with verbal skills.
Drinking alcohol regularly makes it hard for the brain to be able to store new information as memories. It also makes it difficult to remember what was just learned. Drinking alcohol during the teenage years may cause permanent damage to these parts of the brain and lead to memory and learning problems. The learning difficulties caused by teenage drinking result in poorer performance at school and an increased risk of social problems, depression, suicidal thoughts and violence.
Many V.I. youths are exposed to alcohol from the time they are toddlers when their caregivers give them sips of beer or alcohol. By the time they are in junior high, many students drink at least once a week. As they grow older, drinking, as well as taking drugs, especially marijuana, is a regular occurrence.
Not all adolescents will abuse alcohol and other drugs, but it is a decision many, if not all, will face. Nationally, more than one-third of fourth-graders say they have been pressured by their peers to drink alcohol. Far too many children are beginning to drink at a dangerously early age. Here in the territory, there is an alarming number of youth under the age of 18 who are involved in illegal behavior. The Virgin Islands government does not attribute the use of alcohol or drugs as a factor in violent deaths, however, we can safely assume that violent occurrences in and around establishments which serve alcohol and areas which are recognized as drug distribution zones, that illegal drugs and alcohol were most likely a factor in these deaths.

If the upcoming Teen Summit can change the life of one teen and deter him or her from abusing alcohol and other drugs, it would have done its job. The Unity Coalition is a project of the Village Partners in Recovery and is funded through grants by SAMSHA. For more information call Joyce Brown, Unity Coalition project manager, at 719-9900.

Melody Rames
Editor's note: Along with being president of the Unity Coalition Board, Melody Rames has served the Legislature in several public relations positions for many years.
Editors note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to [email protected].


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