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Health & Parenting

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Young. Eager. And Drunk.

A 12-year-old binger? Believe it. Alcohol abuse starts early.

Reaching Younger Kids

Alcohol is the number-one drug problem in America, and it starts early -- long before high school," says Kappie Bliss, who directs an elementary school pilot program for MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving). "Since the risk for alcohol and other drug use shoots up when children enter the sixth grade, MADD saw the need for a prevention program for children in grades one through five. We want children to know how to protect themselves, and that includes making sure their own brains have a chance to develop into the best brain possible -- undamaged physically by alcohol and able to think critically."

"A Very Scary Ride," a story about two young boys picked up after school by an inebriated uncle, sets up one lesson that Bliss took into a Montana 2nd-grade classroom. "He smelled funny and was yelling, not nice like usual," the story recounts.

"When we taught this lesson," says Bliss, "the students were so inventive about what they could do, from going back into the school for a 'forgotten' book in order to tell a trusted adult, to saying they felt sick and couldn't get in the car," says Bliss. The segment is part of an eight-lesson series for each grade taught by trained volunteers, teachers, and very carefully selected high school students. The program is scheduled to be launched in fall 2000.

Charting the Damage

When Huggins visits high school classes, she takes an attention-getting computer program that graphs blood alcohol rate depending on gender, weight, and food intake. It offers students a quick look at the physiological effects of having two drinks an hour, for example. (In this context, a drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, or 1 ounce of hard liquor.) Another tool that shows the effects of alcohol is a pair of special glasses that simulate alcohol-impairment. A boy and a girl try to walk a straight line with and without the goggles. "Usually they stop, because they realize they can't do it," says Huggins. "We always point out that if they'd been drinking, they'd probably have lost that judgment too," says Huggins. "Maybe they'd be driving."

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