Coalition focuses on underage drinking

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Bud Nelson is an ex-Navy chief petty officer, an educated chemical dependency counselor and a former investigator who wore a suit and carried a gun.

He also carried a bottle of Black Velvet.

He was a hard-drinking sailor for 22 years. He used alcohol to celebrate the good times and drown out the bad. He got 5 DUIs. He was court-martialed. He's not shy to tell stories about how he let down his parents, his children and his spouse.

After nearly 25 years of sobriety, the Craig resident won't touch alcohol. Not a beer at dinner. Not one drop. He knows too well how many times he's told himself, "I won't do it this time," but then fell back into his addiction.

"I didn't get in trouble every time I drank," Nelson said. "But every time I got in trouble, I had been drinking."

A recovering alcoholic by his own admission, Nelson said he started drinking when he was a teenager.

"I'm 64, and I started when I was 15," Nelson said.

Stopping teen drinking is the goal of the Grand Futures Prevention Coalition's April awareness campaign.

April is the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence's 18th annual sponsorship of Alcohol Awareness Month. The council encourages communities to focus on alcohol-related issues, especially the disease of alcoholism.

This year, the focus is on preventing underage drinking. Locally, Grand Futures Prevention Coalition plans to launch media campaigns and visit area schools to spread the message in observance of Alcohol Awareness Month.

Grand Futures submitted an alcohol awareness proclamation, which was signed by the Craig City Council on Tuesday.

Grand Futures' director, Cindy Biskup, said the teenage years are a crucial time to promote alcohol awareness. According to Biskup, Nelson and the Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, many alcoholics began drinking as teenagers.

"Young people who begin drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who begin drinking at age 21," Biskup said.

Biskup said she hopes the awareness impacts teenagers "before they get to the point where you can't reach them anymore."

Even if teens sets aside the risks of future dependency, teens face immediate dangers associated with alcohol, Biskup said.

Alcohol plays a key role in accidents, homicides and suicides, the leading causes of death among youths, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Alcohol consumption by adolescents results in brain damage and impairs intellectual development, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that alcohol is linked to as many as two-thirds of all sexual assaults and date rapes of teens and college students.

Young people often are misinformed about alcohol and its effects, Biskup said.

She cited a federal study that found that millions of high school students in America do not understand the intoxicating effects of alcohol or don't know that a person can die from an alcohol overdose.

Nelson said his perceptions of alcohol use also were skewed.

After he quit drinking, whenever he went out with co-workers or friends, he began to notice that some people weren't drinking.

"I was so surprised when I got sober to learn that not everybody drinks," Nelson said. "When I grew up, I thought that's what you did when you became an adult."

In light of his personal observations, Nelson said it's important to remind young people that they have a choice. Advising teens not to drink until they reach the legal age leaves out an important alternative, Nelson said.

Adults have a choice, and many choose not to drink, Nelson said.

Instead of reminding our youths that drinking is reserved for adults, "The message to send is, 'You don't ever have to do it,'" Nelson said.

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