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Tis the Season

‘Tis the Season!

‘Tis the season … to make sure we’re talking about alcohol with our kids

College students are home for the holidays. High schoolers are finding themselves in empty houses while parents are at work or doing last-minute holiday shopping. Adults are feeling celebratory.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most dangerous times of the year.

Data overwhelmingly show that December means greater exposure to alcohol for our youth—and the myriad consequences that come with it, including assault, unplanned sexual activity, alcohol poisoning, and impaired driving. (According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the average number of fatalities involving an alcohol-impaired driver rose 34% during the Christmas and New Year period alone.)

So while we’re gathered ‘round the fire with loved ones, what can we do to keep our kids and communities safer?

Set an example. A new report shows young people are very aware of how much their parents drink, and it affects their own relationship with alcohol. During the holidays, it’s important for our kids to see that we can celebrate without alcohol. If you do drink alcohol, don’t drive. Model riding with a sober driver.

Talk to your kids—and ask the tough questions. What are your kids doing while they’re home from college? Who are they spending time with? Talking to them about alcohol consumption and being clear about your expectations – underage drinking is dangerous, illegal, and unacceptable — is key. (Here are some great tips for how to talk to teens about alcohol. For example, don’t “lecture” and opt for open-ended questions.)

Share the data. Alcohol impairs judgment, and kids who drink are more likely to become involved in car crashes, be more sexually active, do worse in school, experience and/or cause physical violence, and abuse alcohol as adults.  You can share some other important facts about alcohol with your kids when the time is right.

Don’t drink and drive. Stay sober, or find a safe way home. It’s really that easy.

Don’t host or allow your child to attend an underage drinking party. It’s not safe and it’s illegal. It’s that simple.

We know delaying alcohol use as long as possible will decrease the chances our kids will develop problems associated with alcohol later in life. Setting an example, talking to them early, and sharing information can go a long way in making sure alcohol has no place in the lives of our children.

 

Tis the Season

Hidalgo County Sees Groundswell of Smoke Free Ordinances

“Community buy-in.” That’s the phrase Gilda Bowen uses to describe the wave of comprehensive smoke-free ordinances recently passed in communities throughout the county. Bowen is the Tobacco Coordinator for the Hidalgo County Tobacco Prevention Cessation Coalition (TPCC).

When the Hidalgo County TPCC formed in February of 2014, only one smoke-free ordinance had passed within the county. Today, 17 communities are 100% smoke-free.

“Even though there are separate cities in the county, the Valley is like a large community,” said Bowen. “So every time a city passed one, it encouraged another to take it up.”

She credits the combination of grassroots efforts and support from American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, Texans Standing Tall, and other organizations for their success.

“It took research and planning from the AHA and ACS combined with a lot of one-on-one meetings to convince civic leaders that their communities wanted this,” Bowen added.

The movement built up slowly, with the cities of Edinburg, Pharr and Mission creating smoke-free ordinances from 2014-2016. Then in 2017, momentum took over, with at least one ordinance a month being passed.

Having coalition members committed to creating smoke-free communities was the major factor in making Hidalgo County virtually smoke-free. Every agenda, handout, or email from members included updates on what was happening in cities. So when McAllen had a public hearing, they had over 200 people show up.

The coalition realizes that even with this success, their work is not over.

“There will always be more work, there will always be opportunities,” said Mrs. Bowen. “We hope the community is proud and will take ownership of some projects to continue working on enforcement and implementation.”

Texans Standing Tall understands that passing and enforcing comprehensive smoke-free ordinances is hard work, but we also believe that Texas cities are up to the challenge of implementing changes that help create healthier, safer communities – Gilda Bowen and the Hidalgo County TPCC are living proof of that. If you’re interested in learning more about passing a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance in your community, please contact Steve Ross at sross@TexansStandingTall.org.

Tis the Season

Drinking Alcohol Raises Cancer Risk

Alcohol is a “definitive” risk factor for cancer, according to a statement released this month by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). 

According to ASCO, minimizing excessive exposure of alcohol has important implications for cancer prevention. In its statement, ASCO noted that alcohol consumption is causally associated with oropharyngeal (throat) and laryngeal (voicebox) cancer, esophageal cancer, liver cancer, breast cancer, and colon cancer. However, alcohol may also be a risk factor for other cancers, including pancreatic and stomach cancers.

Researchers looked at several studies that found a strong correlation between alcohol and cancer.  They concluded that 3.5% of all cancer-related deaths were due to alcohol consumption.  They further concluded that in 2012, 5.5% of new cancer occurrences and 5.8% of all cancer deaths worldwide were attributable to alcohol consumption.

“The importance of alcohol drinking as a contributing factor to the overall cancer burden is often underappreciated,” the organization said in its statement. “Associations between alcohol drinking and cancer risk have been observed consistently regardless of the specific type of alcoholic beverages.”

Another recent study shows that teens aged 14-17 are less likely to drink if they know about the link between alcohol and cancer. Unfortunately, most aren’t actually aware of the connection. To help create healthier, safter communities, Texans Standing Tall believes its especially important to share this new research so young people gain a better understanding of the consequences of alcohol consumption.

Tis the Season

“Fraternities must change.”

The national fraternity Sigma Phi Epsilon took the bold initiative this month of announcing a ban on alcohol and other substances at all of its 215 chapters.

“Sigma Phi Epsilon and our peers have unfortunately earned a reputation for being organizations that promote alcohol consumption, misogyny and violence,” CEO Brian Warren said. “For SigEp, there can be no more discussion about maintaining that status quo. Fraternities must change.”

According to the Institute of Alcohol Studies, alcohol use is the leading cause of death, disease, and disability worldwide for people aged 15-49. This is a serious public health issue that deserves our attention.

Over the last few weeks, many universities have taken steps to combat the dangerous, and sometimes deadly, alcohol-related behaviors associated with Greek life.  The most recent—and closest to home—is the suspension of all Greek activity at Texas State University after the death of a 20-year-old pledge to a fraternity.

Texans Standing Tall is encouraged by the movement within the Greek community to work to end the normalization of alcohol for teenagers and young college students. Rather than supporting a narrative that claims alcohol use is “just a part of college life,” it’s important to remind students that college is a time for them to learn, grow, and develop skills for creating a bright and healthy future – that is the college experience we want them to strive for.

Tis the Season

Engage for Community Change: New Website

In 2016, Texans Standing Tall received a grant from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to conduct a statewide assessment to help identify potential areas of collaboration between the traffic safety community and substance use prevention coalitions, and to develop an interactive tool to help connect coalitions and traffic safety experts.

This month, after conducting interviews with more than 50 prevention coalition leaders and traffic safety experts, analyzing findings, and collaborating to build an interactive web site, Texans Standing Tall launched Engage for Community Change.

On the website, people looking to connect with coalitions can search for one another by location, community type, or areas of focus. The goal is to help coalitions and communities leverage scarce resources for addressing problems in their communities that stem from underage alcohol and other substance abuse.

Coalitions have been integral to the passage of city social host ordinances that hold people accountable for underage drinking parties that occur in their homes or on their property. Texas leads the nation in the number of drunk driving crashes. Coalitions can have a potentially huge impact on reducing impaired driving, and we know that this tool can serve to assist businesses, agencies, nonprofits, and concerned citizens in making our communities safer.

Through the Engage for Community Change project, Texans Standing Tall hopes to help increase collaboration between coalitions and traffic safety experts in the state of Texas. If you have any questions or want your organization to be included in the project, please contact Kaleigh Becker, Research & Program Specialist, via email at kbecker@texansstandingtall.org or at 512-442-7501.

Tis the Season

Texans Standing Tall Takes on D.C.

Last month, staff from Texans Standing Tall had the opportunity to travel to Washington D.C. to help spread the message of prevention! TST’s own Sachin Kamble and Atalie Nitibhon spent a week meeting with elected officials and representatives of many substance use and mental health organizations.

Atalie and Sachin at the offices of National Council for Behavioral Health.

One highlight of the week was a visit to the offices of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Texans Standing Tall had the opportunity to speak with SAMHSA experts about prevention’s role in addressing behavioral health. Kana Enomoto, the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of SAMHSA, reaffirmed the importance of preventing alcohol and tobacco abuse.

Dr. Priscilla Clark, Deputy Director of the Center for Mental Health Services, and Kana Enomoto, Acting Deputy Assistance Secretary, from SAMHSA field questions regarding the current behavioral health system in the United States.

During the “Texas Tuesday Coffee” session, Sachin was able to meet Sen. Ted Cruz. Sachin shared his personal journey with his struggles with excessive alcohol use. Sachin discussed what Texans Standing Tall does in the state and the importance of prevention. The senator was very receptive and acknowledged the wide-ranging impact of substance abuse on Texas citizens.

Senator Cruz chats it up with TST’s own Sachin.

Atalie and Sachin also visited Rep. Lloyd Doggett’s office, where they met with his Health Legislative Aide Hannah Vogel to discuss substance use disorders and prevention as public health issues.

Health Legislative Aide Hannah Vogel (pictured far left) speaks to a group of representatives from various behavioral health organizations in Texas.

Overall, the trip was a valuable experience. If TST wants to change attitudes and behaviors toward youth substance use, advocacy at local, statewide, and national levels is essential.

Tis the Season

Alcohol vs. Athletes

Research indicates that student athletes are a population that is at risk for alcohol use—81 percent of college student-athletes used alcohol in the past year, and 62 percent used alcohol in the past month (NCAA, 2014). When the vast majority of student-athletes are using alcohol on a regular basis, we have a problem.

Some factors that contribute to student-athlete alcohol use include stress from the dual roles that they play on campus and the increased scrutiny they receive, overexposure to social settings that promote alcohol use, and challenges related to having less contact with their central support networks. All students, including athletes, also tend to overestimate the alcohol use of their peers and underestimate their own alcohol use, which contributes to a drinking culture on campus.

In addition to the negative consequences of drinking that can affect all students, such as unplanned sexual activity, combination drug use, and binge drinking, college student-athletes have other reasons to avoid using alcohol.

When talking about athletes specifically, there are a number of reasons alcohol use is concerning. In addition to concerns about physical and mental well-being of the students, alcohol hinders an athlete’s performance.

Alcohol Damages the Heart. Intense exercise increases your heart rate. Drinking alcohol even two days before exercising causes additional stress on the heart and can result in unusual heart rhythms (Drink Aware, 2014). 

Alcohol Harms Muscle Growth. Alcohol use cancels out gains from a workout. Chronic alcohol use can damage long-term performance by causing muscle damage, muscle loss, and muscle weakness; even short-term alcohol use can impede muscle growth. This muscle loss and weakness is known as myopathy. Myopathy can affect all muscles – such as those in your arms, legs, and heart – in a way that can harm athletic abilities (University Health Center, 2014).

Exercising With a Hangover Decreases Performance. When exercising, the body must continuously remove lactic acid. After drinking, a person’s liver is working hardest to rid the body of the toxic by-products of alcohol and cannot remove the lactic acid. This causes a feeling of fatigue, which lowers athletic performance (Drink Aware, 2014).

Alcohol Causes Dehydration. Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it makes the kidneys produce more urine and can cause the athlete’s body to become dehydrated. Staying hydrated helps blood flow so it can carry oxygen and nutrients to the muscles (Drink Aware, 2014). When dehydrated, an athlete may experience low energy, low endurance, cramps, muscle pulls, muscle strains, and muscle loss. Full recovery from dehydration can take up to a week (UC San Diego Intercollegiate Athletics).                                                                                                                                             

Alcohol Hurts Athletic Performance. Alcohol is linked with a loss of balance, reaction time, memory, and accuracy of fine motor skills (Vella & Cameron-Smith, 2010). Drinking alcohol leads to slower running and cycling times, weakens the heart’s ability to pump, impairs temperature regulation, decreases grip strength and jump height, lowers stamina, and reduces strength and power (Kozir & American College of Sports Medicine).

For college student-athletes, avoiding dangerous alcohol use can benefit their performance in and out of the classroom. Through sensible alcohol policies and educational campaigns that challenge students’ misperceptions, colleges can help prevent alcohol use among student-athletes.

For more information, check out our Athletes vs. Alcohol handout here.

 

Tis the Season

New Routines, New Opportunities for Underage Alcohol Use

The start of the school year is an exciting time! Students have the opportunity to try new activities, make new friends, and experience new social situations. However, these positive changes can also create conditions like social and academic pressures that leave young people especially vulnerable to dangerous alcohol use and abuse. Parents taking steps to prevent underage alcohol use and abuse is essential to promoting the safety of their children.

The majority of underage drinking takes place in social settings, such as at home and at parties. Even if parents are at home, underage drinking that occurs at parties can have many negative consequences, including violence and assaults, unplanned sexual activity, combination drug use, property damage and vandalism, and binge drinking and alcohol poisoning. Preventing underage social access to alcohol can help reduce these negative consequences.

Parents play a critical role in preventing underage drinking. If parents do not provide a space for underage drinking to occur, young people are significantly less likely to drink. Parents can help change attitudes and expectations that underage drinking is just a fact of life in their community by providing social activities that are alcohol-free and speaking with other parents about the consequences of underage drinking at parties, with or without supervision. Fostering an environment where underage drinking is not viewed as an inevitable rite of passage can help prevent many of the destructive consequences of underage social access to alcohol.

The beginning of the school year is fun and exciting. However, the changes in environment, friends, and school stressors can lead to unhealthy behavior. Parents should have a plan of action to help their kids stay out of trouble when it comes to underage drinking and alcohol abuse. When parents are undeniably clear with their children that are expected to obey the law and not drink underage, their children more often listen to them over their peers. Reducing youth access to alcohol at house parties and in other social situations can keep them safe and healthy – not just as kids, but well into adulthood.

Tis the Season

YLC Member of the Month: Niko Allen Sanchez Petty

This month, we’re highlighting Youth Leadership Council (YLC) Member Nikolai Allen Sanchez Petty for his stellar work on the YLC data collection project. His hard work and dedication helped the group develop key research parameters that will guide their project moving forward.

We’re quite proud of this young man and look forward to seeing the many more great things he will accomplish!


Tis the Season

No Ifs, Ands, or (Cigarette) Butts About It

 

School’s out for summer. For many families, spending more time outdoors is a big part of their summertime agenda.

Our Texas parks and beaches are at peak demand for the next several weeks, so it’s a good time to remind everyone about outdoor smoke-free ordinances and why they matter.

Even outdoors, children and adults are affected by secondhand smoke. Asthma attacks, eye irritation, headaches, and ear issues are just some of the effects of secondhand smoke. But it isn’t just an afternoon at the park that is concerning. A 2006 Surgeon General’s Report outlined the dangers of prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke, which include cancer and heart disease in addition to asthma and other respiratory issues. While most studies about secondhand smoke are directly related to indoor exposure, more recent studies have shown that secondhand exposure outdoors can be significant.

Because we know now there is no safe level of secondhand smoke, many communities are looking at expanding their smoke-free policies to include outdoor spaces as well. In addition to protecting people from secondhand smoke, outdoor smoking ordinances can also be helpful to individuals who are trying to quit smoking by eliminating triggers.

They also send an important message to our kids that smoking is not a community norm, which can help prevent later tobacco usage.

When looking at outdoor smoking ordinances, it’s also worth considering the environmental impact of outdoor smoking. Literally trillions of non-biodegradable cigarette butts are collected from sidewalks, beaches, and other outdoors areas every year. In addition to littering the earth, cigarette butts are also harmful to wildlife and can be toxic to fish. Cigarette butts are a significant cause of outdoor fires, and they cost hundreds of millions of dollars every year in property loss and restoration expenses. In a state like Texas, where droughts are common, fire risk is particularly concerning.

While outdoor smoke-free ordinances can be challenging to implement (especially when it comes to defining what is indoor vs. outdoor space), they contribute to a healthier and safer Texas. For more information about pursuing a smoke-free ordinance in your community, please contact Steve Ross, our Statewide Coalition Specialist, at sross@texansstandingtall.org or (512) 442-7501.