Dear Dr. Wallace:

Since the legal age for consuming alcohol is 21, why are so many teens both male and female drinking alcohol on a regular basis? I’m 17, and the guys I’ve gone out with are teenagers, and almost all of them tell me they like to drink alcohol.

— Anonymous, Michigan City, Indiana

Dear Anonymous: The sad fact is alcohol is readily available for those teens that choose to use it for many different reasons, ranging from “feeling adult” to escaping the pressures of life.

Underage drinking is not legal and only compounds daily pressures. But try telling that to a 17-year-old who just flunked a big test, or whose parents just announced they were getting a divorce.

It’s difficult to teach young people that alcohol is harmful and not acceptable when as a society we sell the stuff by the barrel. How many teens think it’s acceptable to drink because they observe their parents consuming alcohol in the home? If mom and dad drink, then kids think it must be OK.

Statistics provided by the National Council on Alcoholism show that 93 percent of all high school seniors have tried alcohol, 66 percent say they drink once a month and 5 percent admit to being daily drinkers. Over half of high school seniors who drink started drinking before the ninth grade.

Although drivers under 21 make up only 10 percent of the driving population, they account for more than 25 percent of alcohol-related traffic accidents — the No. 1 killer of people ages 15 to 24.

We can never “toss in the towel” and say teenage drinking wins. Abstaining from alcohol is a way of life, and teens must be taught this philosophy. It must be nourished in the home by wise, loving parents and in the community by supporting schools and churches.

Teens are our future and every one of them is important for a better world.

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