SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – According to new data from the Student Health and Risk Prevention Survey (SHARP), the rate of alcohol use among LGBTQ + youth in Utah County was double that of of their peers. On Tuesday, Encircle, Utah Valley Drug Prevention Coalition and Parents Empowered unveiled a new mural at the Provo Towne Center to raise awareness of the issues facing LGBTQ + youth, highlight the challenges of substance abuse in the region, and encourage parent-child bonding.
Encircle experts said LGBTQ + youth often feel excluded from their communities, schools and places where they live. This can lead to isolation, depression and loneliness. Lack of connection to their family and community can increase their risk for substance use. The organization said it is proactively working to prevent substance use and mental health issues within the LGBTQ + community by providing individual and family therapy, support groups and a safe space.
Advocates with Empowered Parents said research shows that alcohol can have immediate, long-term damage to the developing brain of adolescents, which impacts their health, safety and development. Underage alcohol use can change the way the brain develops, impairing memory, learning, and good judgment. In addition, it can be linked to poor academic performance, violence, depression, suicide, and other mental illnesses and behavioral problems. The earlier a minor begins to drink, the more likely he is to become addicted. Data shows that if they start before the age of 15, they are four times more likely to become alcoholics than those who wait until age 21 to drink.
According to the Utah Valley Drug Prevention Coalition, there are three preventative steps parents can take to prevent underage alcohol use. The first is the bond, where parents spend 10 to 15 minutes a day with their children and do the things they love. The second concerns limits, that is to say the establishment of clear rules not to drink alcohol by minors. The third is monitoring, which is being aware of where your children come and go and become part of their everyday world.
Representatives from each of these three organizations joined Rosie Nguyen from ABC4 for an IN FOCUS discussion on the topic. The three guests were Stephenie Larsen, Founder and CEO of Encircle; Heather Lewis, Utah Valley Drug Prevention Coalition Substance Use Disorder Prevention Coordinator; and Heidi Peterson, representative of Parents Empowered.
To watch the full IN FOCUS discussion with Larsen, Lewis and Peterson, click on the video at the top of the article.
Watch IN FOCUS chats with ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen weeknights on CW30 News at 7 p.m..