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Alcohol Policy Panel of San Diego County working to reduce youth access to alcohol

February 13, 2013 (San Diego) – Girls and young women throughout San Diego County share common drinking habits with their counterparts elsewhere in the country. About one in five high school girls in San Diego County reported binge drinking on the latest California Healthy Kids Survey, mirroring national statistics on binge drinking released recently by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

When asked about their alcohol use as part of the statewide survey, 8 percent of San Diego County girls in 9th grade reported drinking “until I feel it a lot or get drunk,” compared to 9.6 percent of 11th grade girls.

These numbers are troubling to Stacie Perez, a member of the Alcohol Policy Panel of San Diego County, a group working to prevent binge and underage drinking.

“Reducing youth access to alcohol has been one of our main efforts to prevent binge and underage drinking,” she said. “But these numbers show there is more to do. Our work is not done.”

Among other strategies, the Policy Panel and its partners have worked to promote adoption and enforcement of Social Host laws throughout San Diego County. Studies have shown that these laws reduce drunken driving fatalities by up to 9 percent and reduce binge drinking by 3 percent, according to The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

“There are laws that prevent people from selling to those under 21,” Perez said. “And now, there are laws preventing adults from providing a place for underage drinking to occur.”

Perez, who also serves as program director for program director for the Episcopal Community Services East County Accord DUI program, said binge and underage drinking has had a huge impact on her clients, many of whom are under the age of 25. It’s why she’s committed to addressing the risks of alcohol use and doing so at very young ages, Perez said.

Along with other health and safety experts, Perez said Social Host laws are considered important because they address the environment in which high-risk drinking often occurs: House parties.

Half of 15-year-olds in California who drink alcohol say they do so at their own home or at a friend’s house, according to the California Department of Alcohol Drug Programs.

To address this issue, all 18 cities and the unincorporated areas of the County of San Diego have adopted “social host” ordinances, making it illegal to host underage drinking parties.  And like a DUI, a social host violation can cost thousands of dollars.

Other prevention efforts supported by the Policy Panel encourage specialized training for alcohol servers.

Marian Novak, project director for the Responsible Hospitality Coalition in San Diego, a non-profit organization that trains bartenders in responsible beverage service practices, said the CDC finding supports what those who work in the prevention field have been saying anecdotally for some time.

“We are seeing higher blood alcohol levels among young women than in the past. Unfortunately, the consequences can be tragic, often resulting in death or injury,” Novak said. “That’s why anyone who sells and serves alcohol should be trained to serve it responsibly.”

Research shows that Responsible Beverage Service training, combined with enforcement of over-service laws and management support, is a model prevention strategy that can reduce alcohol-related harm.

The CDC study also found that one-in-eight women and one-in-five high school girls report binge drinking. The study also found that nearly 14 million women binge drink about three times a month, increasing their risk of breast cancer, heart disease, homicide, sexual assault and suicide.

If one chooses to drink, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend drinking in moderation, defined as up to one drink a day for women or up to two drinks a day for men. Those younger than the minimum legal drinking age of 21 and women who are pregnant should not drink at all, according to the CDC. It is not recommended that anyone begin drinking alcohol or drink more frequently on the basis of potential health benefits.

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