PUTNAM COUNTY - The Sentinel recently ended a three part series on a five year study showing the progress of county students in terms of safety. One of the sections looked at underage drinking, an area that saw numbers go down over five years. Despite the dip, students drinking alcohol proved to be a more concerning area than others.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the brain continues to develop from birth through the teen years and into the mid-20s. Consuming alcohol during this development has been shown to cause permanent brain damage, hence the drinking age being 21. The part of the brain where learning and memory is located can be as much as 10 percent smaller in those who drink alcohol during brain development.

When the brain is damaged by alcohol during the developmental stage, the brain attempts to repair itself and hard-wires the learned behavior of alcohol dependence, according to Education Specialty Publishing.

Other than brain damage, underage drinking also has negative affects on the liver. Cirrhosis of the liver is caused by excessive and chronic alcohol consumption. According to the NIAAA, cirrhosis is the 12th leading cause of death by disease in the United States.

Underage drinking is considered risky business because it will often lead to drinking and driving. Forty-one percent of all teen automobile crashes involve alcohol. Other than drunk driving, teens abusing alcohol increases the risk of being a victim of sexual assault. According to the NIAAA, alcohol is involved in 90 percent of all campus rapes. Also, 70 percent of violent behavior is attributed to alcohol. Alcohol is a factor in 64 percent of homicides on college campuses, according to the NIAAA.

Young people who are mentally depressed who abuse alcohol are at a higher risk of committing suicide. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people between ages 14 and 25.

Though underage drinking is an issue, the act of "binge drinking" is even more troubling and at times deadly issue. Binge drinking is five standard drinks (a standard drink being 12 grams of pure ethanol) in a row for men and four for women. For example, if a young male student were to have five eight ounces of malt liquor in a row, the young male would have participated in binge drinking.

The legal system assesses drunkenness by measuring blood alcohol concentration or BAC. BAC is the percentage of alcohol in one's blood while drinking. In the state of Ohio, someone would be considered legally drunk at .08 percent. Three drinks in one hour for a 160-pound person in one hour can possibly put the drinker over the legal limit for driving a car. However, legally, it is important to note that anyone under the age of 21 may not have any alcohol in their system as well as buy or even possess alcohol. Penalties for these crimes include juvenile detention and probation. Underage drinkers lose their driver's license and are often sent to alcohol rehabilitation.

Heavy, fast drinking is considered risky for one's health especially in teens. Other than severe hangovers, binge drinking often results in alcohol poising and respiratory arrest which can progress to coma or death.

An issue facing the county is social hosting by parents. Social hosting is when an individual who is over the age of 21 purchases or provides alcohol to a person who is under 21. Hosting can take place in party-like atmospheres or by just providing the alcohol. Even when an adult is not present but purchases or allowed the alcohol, the adult is still guilty of social hosting.

According to Education Specialty Publishing, hosting parties for underage drinkers sends the message to teens that it is okay to break the law. Injuries, assault, rape and alcohol poisoning have been known to occur and the adult hosting is often held criminally liable. Criminal liability may fall on the hosting adult even if they were unaware of the party. According to Ohio Parents for Drug Free Youth, even without damage or incident, host-ers can face a maximum sentence of six months in jail and /or a $1,000 fine.

The Putnam County Educational Service Center's SAFE kids survey indicated that students were less likely to drink if they had a guardian talking to them about the dangers of underage drinking.

According to InFocus, an Education Specialty Publishing pamphlet, "Most parents do not feel ready to discuss the dangers of drugs and alcohol with their elementary school children but no matter how favorable your child's school environment is, by the time he or she enters the elementary grades, it is time to begin preparing them for their first inevitable exposure to drugs and alcohol."

When discussing this with younger students, Parents - The Antidrug stresses that it is important to be attentive, establish foundations, be prepared to answer questions and keep the conversation growing.

With younger students, experts have discovered that role playing can be useful to give children a realistic impression of encounters with drugs and alcohol. Parents can play the role of a classmate or adult offering alcohol. Experts say to include statements, questions and pressures that a student is likely to hear in a real life situation. During the role playing activities, the goal is to help children understand that it is not a good idea to respond with personal attacks or name calling but rather a simple negative response is enough to get a child out of a situation without causing further complications.

InFocus also gives advice on talking to high school students. InFocus states that, "There are many things that [a parent] can do to encourage a meaningful conversation with a high school student about saying no to drugs and alcohol."

The Partnership at Drugfree.org encourages parents and guardians to be proactive in spurring a conversation. During the conversation they suggest being prepared and educated on the substances that a high school student is likely to encounter. This will help with anticipating hard questions a high school student is likely to ask.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it is important to be patient, honest and firm yet flexible during the conversation. Multiple sources also indicate it is important to not underestimate a child's ability to see through a parent's words. If a parent used drugs in the past, it is often better to be honest rather than lie.

For more information on underage drinking and how to address the issue with students, the Putnam County Educational Service Center is a readily available local resource as well as the following websites and institutions.

National Drug and Information Treatment and Referral Hotline - www.findtreatment.samhsa.gov - 800-662-HELP(4357)

Mothers Against Drunk Driving - www.madd.org

Parents - The Antidrug - www.theantidrug.com - 855-378-4373

Alcohol Free Children - www.alcoholfreechildren.org

Ohio Department of Alcohol & Drug Addiction Services - www.odadas.ohio.gov - 1-800-788-7254

Center for Substance Abuse Prevention - www.health.org

ETR Associate - www.etr.org - 1-800-321-4407