Chuck, as a health and fitness expert, how do you feel about alcohol consumption? – “A Toronto Teetotaler”

April is Alcohol Awareness Month, so I’m doing a two-part series on the issue. Last week’s column was geared to those who legally can drink, and this week’s addresses those who are underage.

In Part 1, though not overlooking health risks or highway statistics, I decided to focus on one of the reasons many people justify drinking or become alcohol-dependent – discontentment or a dissatisfaction with life as it is.

If you didn’t read Part 1, I encourage you to do so. My main point was that I believe we all should go against the tide in our culture, which erroneously convinces us that we need mood-altering substances (legal and illegal) to settle our nerves or elevate our happiness. I’m convinced that if we addressed internal issues that seek to rob us of personal peace and contentment, we’d see alcohol and other drug consumption rates drop, whether in adults or our young people.

In 2008, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported on underage drinking in the U.S. It found that more than half of American teens have consumed alcohol; 11 million underage youths drink; and 40 percent of those are provided alcohol at times by their parents. Alcohol consumption by underage drinkers continues to be a public health problem, contributing to thousands of highway fatalities and countless other casualties and problems.

The SAMHSA report included the U.S. surgeon general’s indictment of parents as enablers. Some addiction specialists, however, rebutted his commentary, saying that drinking will happen regardless of parental participation, and who better than the parents to oversee it?

Despite which side of the parental supervision debate we land on, we all can agree that alcohol is an addictive substance that can kill quickly by impairing judgment or slowly by destroying vital organs. For those reasons alone, we should fight for our kids being free from not only its chemical dependency but also an emotional need for it.

A culture embedded in hedonism should not be surprised when its youths increase their passion for pleasure and escape. But it can combat the tides of lies that try to convince young and old that life cannot be good enough without mood-altering substances.

My question to underage youths is the same that I ask of legal-age adults, whether they’re addicts or not: Is it possible that life in itself can be good enough that we don’t need any mood-altering substances to steady us?

I’ll say it again: I believe it can. I really do. I live that type of life and have plenty of friends who do, too.

I have noticed that a lot of people’s substance dependencies are steeped within a background of dysfunctional or meaningless relationships in which love was conditional at best and absent and abusive at worst. I believe that love depravity creates a cavity that many seek to fill with aberrant relationships and mood-altering substances.

As I also mentioned last week, the issues of alcohol and alcoholism hit close to home for me because I grew up with an alcoholic father. He also was addicted to cigarettes. Both booze and tobacco contributed to his early death, at 53 years of age in 1971.

Before finally physically leaving our home when I was a teenager, my father far earlier emotionally abandoned our home because of his addictions and bad choices. It left a hole not only in our family but also in our hearts.

Thank God my mother loved us unconditionally and raised us encouraging us that God does the same. In my family’s Christian tradition, the fatherhood of God filled a gap that my alcoholic father had created. In addition, our church was an extended loving family to us, too. Today youth groups can do a fantastic job there, as well.

My point is that we must never underestimate the love we can offer one another and the power of organizations that rally youths together in caring ways, whether they be church youth groups, the Y, Boys & Girls Clubs of America or others. The power of those “families” brings personal worth and love to young people in ways that often are neglected today in their homes.

Providing a basis of unconditional love and support is one of the reasons my wife, Gena, and I continue to invest our time, talents and treasures in our nonprofit organization, KickStartKids. Our instructors are our heroes, but more importantly, they are heroes to thousands of kids in Texas, instilling self-worth and building strong moral character in our youth through martial arts.

In the end, with its perils outweighing its pleasures, we shouldn’t be fighting for a reason to drink alcohol. As we do with anything in our lives, we should test its worthiness for our consumption, asking how it can affect our lives, health and relationships. And only when we are convinced that we would be better off with it than without it should we proceed to partake of it.

As Socrates put it so eloquently and wisely a couple of millenniums ago, “Worthless people live only to eat and drink; people of worth eat and drink only to live.”

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