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Celebrate the new year

December 31, 2011
George Belitsos, Youth and Shelter Services, Inc. Ames , Times-Republican

We are within an eyelash of a date that begs all of us to "have fun." The beginning of a new year is a clarion call to join in the festivities, have a party, celebrate and "have fun." Too often, that includes drinking alcohol and driving to and from parties.

Though we have made progress in the fight to reduce drunk driving, our state is seeing an increase in the loss of life due to drugged drivers who use both illicit and prescription drugs. Whether it's alcohol or drugs, the user's reaction time, motor skills, judgment and memory are impaired and erode a person's ability to drive safely and responsibly.

Add to this the increased use of cell phones and texting behind the wheel and even more lives are at risk.

Unfortunately, those who cannot legally drink sometimes choose dangerous methods of convincing themselves that they are indeed "growing up." Among youth, the Iowa rate of current alcohol use is similar to the national rate.

However, Iowa reports a binge drinking rate among 12-to 17-year-old youth that is about 30 percent higher than the national rate. Marijuana and prescription drug use is also on the rise among Iowa's youth.

Parents need to talk with their children, get involved, set rules, and above all, be good role models. With the New Year's weekend upon us, parent responsibility is paramount since alcohol is easily available. Seven out of 10 Iowa teens agree that alcohol is easy to obtain.

One way parents can model the best behavior and make traditional family gatherings safe is to not serve alcohol to anyone.

Instead, serve attractive, appetizing non-alcoholic beverages, mock cocktails or tropical drinks. If you do choose to serve alcohol, make sure those under age 21 to not have access to the alcohol and avoid making it the main focus of the social event and serve plenty of snacks. Stop serving alcoholic drinks at least one hour before the end of your event.

Have a party! Celebrate the New Year! Have fun! But please, stay safe, sober and drug-free on the road. Thank you and I wish each of you the best of health in the New Year 2012.



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