By Kaytlyn L. Sheldon

Special to the Osceola Edition

This is the final article in a three-part series regarding the consequences of excessive drinking.

Excessive alcohol consumption contributes to an average of approximately 5,000 deaths among underage youth in the United States each year, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health.

Of those 5,000 deaths, about 1,900 were from motor vehicle crashes, 1,600 were results of homicides, 300 from suicide, as well as hundreds from other injuries such as falls, burns, and drownings.

Although drinking by underage persons is illegal in every state, youth aged 12 to 20 years drink nearly 20 percent of all the alcohol consumed in the U.S.

“Suffice it to say that as a former Emergency Department nurse, I can assure you that alcohol and other substance abuse is often found to be a factor in motor vehicle, watercraft and power equipment accidents, as well as in all manners of accidental injuries such as falls and lacerations,” says Tom Hogenson, director of community relations for Mecosta County Medical Center (MCMC).

According to a 2010 Michigan Department of Community Health study focused on ninth through twelfth grade students attending Michigan public high schools, current drinkers (those who reported having at least one drink of alcohol in the past 30 days) are more than two times as likely to report risky violent behavior compared to nondrinkers (those who reported not drinking any alcohol in the past 30 days).

In fact, 23 percent of current underage drinkers have carried a weapon (gun, knife or club) compared to 10 percent of nondrinkers.

In addition to carrying a weapon, 45 percent of current drinkers were in a physical fight compared to 20 percent of nondrinkers.

“When teens drink alcohol they are more likely to lose control and lash out verbally or physically,” warns Mecosta-Osceola Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking (MOCRUD) prevention coordinator Kim Livingston. “Alcohol fuels arguments and escalates them to the point of regret. More times than not, the fight could have been avoided if alcohol were not a factor.”

Sometimes alcohol is a factor in cases of domestic violence. In 2010 alone, 5 incidents were reported in Mecosta County and 21 were reported in Osceola County.

Each county had one offender under the age of 21 who participated in domestic violence under the influence of alcohol.

“Alcohol plays a significant role in situations involving physical, emotional and sexual assault, as well as in child and elder abuse and neglect,” said Hogenson. “It is frequently implicated in a host of adverse health situations resulting from poor decision-making.”

Scientific evidence states that among youth, drinking is strongly related to the decision making process of having sex and to indiscriminate forms of risky sex.

Youth who drink, for example, are more likely to report multiple sexual partners and inconsistent condom use.

According to the same youth Michigan-based study, 69 percent of current drinkers have had sex compared to 29 percent of nondrinkers.

Of those current drinkers, 26 percent have had four or more sexual partners, 8 percent have been pregnant at least once or caused one or more pregnancies, 13 percent have had their first sexual intercourse with a partner who was three or more years older, and 7 percent have had sex before age 13.

In addition to exhibiting violent behavior and risky sexual practices, current underage drinkers were two times more likely to report mental distress.

Sadly, 22 percent of current drinkers considered suicide compared to 11 percent of nondrinkers. Of those current drinkers who considered suicide, 19 percent created a suicide plan and 11 percent attempted suicide.

“Alcohol is essentially a toxic substance which, in higher concentrations can induce impaired judgment, euphoria, unconsciousness, collapse and death in its own right,” added Hogenson. “Alcohol abuse can lead to disorders of the liver, kidneys, pancreas, brain, heart and vascular system as well.”

People who report drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to also report meeting the criteria for alcohol dependence at some point in their lives.

In fact, new research shows that serious drinking problems (including alcoholism) typically associated with middle age, actually begin to appear much earlier, during young adulthood and even adolescence.

If you suspect your teen may have a drinking problem, the Ten Sixteen Recovery Network, an organization that facilitates MOCRUD, offers substance abuse and anger management classes.

MOCRUD is a community-driven organization that is dedicated to raising awareness for the reduction of underage drinking, alcohol abuse, as well as drinking and driving.

If you have a passion for reducing underage drinking and would like to be a part of MOCRUD, please call Kim Livingston through the Ten Sixteen Recovery Network at (231) 527-2000.

Special thanks to Department Specialist Wendy Easterbrook from the Michigan State Police for her help with local statistics for this article.