Guest column: Alcohol a weapon of abuse, not just a drug
In society, we are inundated with advertisements and daily messages infused into our culture that justify alcohol as acceptable and normal. This substance is glorified as a method to enhance dining experiences, celebrations, entertainment, sporting events and holidays. Alcohol itself is not the problem.
A drink to accompany a meal or celebratory time is a much different choice than to completely dissociate from reality and manipulate others to achieve a "good time."
Children grow up seeing alcohol use as part of being an adult. Alcohol abuse destroys families and contributes to teens having extreme issues building meaningful relationships and having social emotional stability.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), more than 10 percent of U.S. children live with a parent who has alcohol abuse problems. This contributes to excess rates of binge drinking in teens and young adults through the misconception that alcohol is how to handle a Friday night out or a crisis situation.
We are seeing increased rates of alcohol use among teens, which when infused into their habits increases the risk of addiction, harmful decisions and legal consequences. Unfortunately, youth who drink are 7.5 times more likely to use other illegal drugs. We must combat rising rates of drug use and elevate the normalcy of supportive and safe relationships.
February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. One important fact that demands attention is that alcohol is the No. 1 date rape drug. Many do not associate alcohol in the same category as "roofies" and other rohypnol related drugs. However, the truth is that using alcohol to influence sexual interactions is the most common cause of sexual assault and date rape.
Together, Live Violence Free and the South Tahoe Drug Free Coalition are speaking up to raise awareness in our community that alcohol is a prominent factor in incidents of teen dating abuse and non-consensual sexual activity. Just as the term "domestic violence" set a public precedent of the large need to support those abused by intimate partners, the term "date rape" should also serve as lexicon to drive support toward those victimized by sexual assault.
We should not limit the concept of rape to dramatic movie-like assaults of violence perpetrated by a stranger hiding in the bushes. We need to recognize that two-thirds of all sexual assaults are perpetrated by a close acquaintance or partner.
The harmful role of alcohol in these occurrences is often not associated due to the public's acceptance of the substance as less dangerous than other illegal drugs.
California law states that no person can legally consent to sexual activity while under the influence of alcohol. As a result, when alcohol is used as a tactic to progress any relationship to the next level in a sexual manner, it becomes a situation of date rape. A fun night with a boy/girlfriend can easily turn into a traumatizing event.
It is up to us as adults to educate our teens, and remember that alcohol is not exempt from the high-risk threats of all drugs. Often we lose sight that alcohol is a drug in the first place, similar to that of caffeine or coffee. Too much coffee causes the body to express symptoms such as becoming jittery, dizzy, anxious or an increased heart rate. Too much alcohol impacts the brain's memory and ability to make logical decisions.
If we want our teens to form meaningful relationships based on trust, respect and equality, they must be able to make smart decisions. The extreme social pressures to conform, be accepted and deal with life without pain or struggle is compounding the issue of teen substance abuse.
Alcohol is the leading cause of date rape and we must draw this connection. We must have conversations with our youth about boundaries, consent and safe sexual activity beyond birth control and pregnancy. We must make clear that consent is not optional and alcohol removes any and all consent.
Teens are at-risk of many different forms of abuse in their relationships. Beyond common forms of physical and emotional mistreatment, there lies a threat when alcohol is involved. This month, help us increase awareness and be a mentor. Have the conversation with a son/daughter/teenager to teach them that their choices and consent matter.
It is time we broaden our scope of respect and be real about establishing "real-ationships" of integrity and trust.
Hannah Greenstreet is a community advocate at Live Violence Free and the student advocate at South Tahoe Middle School. She works directly with young people and community-based organizations to address necessary at-risk interventions to help youth be more personally, academically and socially successful. She can be reached at email@example.com.