IN FOCUS Discussion: LGBTQ+ youth and underage drinking

In Focus

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – According to new data from the Student Health and Risk Prevention (SHARP) survey, the rate of alcohol use among LGBTQ+ youth in Utah County were double those of their peers. On Tuesday, Encircle, Utah Valley Drug Prevention Coalition, and Parents Empowered unveiled a new mural at the Provo Towne Center to bring awareness to the issues LGBTQ+ youth face, highlight the challenges of substance abuse in the area, and encourage parent-child bonding.

Experts with Encircle said LGBTQ+ youth often feel excluded from their communities, schools, and places where they live. This can lead to isolation, depression, and loneliness. The lack of connection with their families and communities can increase their risk for substance use. The organization said they’re working proactively to prevent substance use and mental health challenges within the LGBTQ+ community by providing individuals and family therapy, support groups, and a safe space.

Advocates with Parents Empowered said research shows that alcohol can have immediate long-term damage on the developing adolescent brain, impacting their health, safety, and development. Underage drinking can change how brains develop, 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 starts drinking, the greater the likelihood they are of becoming addicted. Data shows if they start before age 15, they’re four times more likely to become alcohol-dependent versus those who wait until 21 to drink.

According to the Utah Valley Drug Prevention Coalition, there are three preventative measures parents can take to prevent underage drinking. The first is bonding, where parents spend 10 to 15 minutes a day with their kids and doing the things they enjoy. The second is boundaries, meaning setting clear rules about not drinking underage. The third is monitoring, meaning being aware of where your children are leaving and coming from and becoming a part of their day-to-day world.

Representatives from each of these three organizations joined ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen for an IN FOCUS discussion about the subject. The three guests were Stephenie Larsen, founder and CEO of Encircle; Heather Lewis, substance use disorder prevention coordinator at Utah Valley Drug Prevention Coalition; and Heidi Peterson, representative with Parents Empowered.

To watch the full IN FOCUS discussion with Larsen, Lewis, and Peterson, click on the video at the top of the article.

Catch IN FOCUS discussions with ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen weeknights on the CW30 News at 7 p.m.

Rosie Nguyen is an award-winning journalist who joined the ABC4 News team as a reporter in January 2018. In September 2020, she embarked on a new journey as the anchor for the CW30 News at 7 p.m. Although she’s not out in the field anymore, she is continuing her passion for social justice and community issues through the nightly “In Focus” discussions.

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