“Alcohol damages your brain,” and “Drinking hurts thinking,” are two of the main messages that public officials in Delaware began to disseminate on April 23 through a new underage and binge drinking prevention campaign.

Aimed at students ages 12 to 25 and their parents, the three-county campaign called “Underage? Understand. Don’t Drink!” hopes to curtail the growing problem of addiction in the state by focusing on alcohol consumption at an early age.

“We’re learning more that as kids go all the way to age 25 the brain continues to develop and so the dangers of substance use become much more prominent on a developing brain,” said Delaware Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) Secretary Rita Landgraf. “We’re also focusing on parents and adult influencers – there are statistics that show that parents are serving alcohol to their children without clearly understanding these dangers.”

In 2013, 65 percent of high school students had consumed at least one drink in their life, and 36.3 percent of them had at least one drink of alcohol on one or more occasions in the past 30 days, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Physiologically, alcohol consumption at a young age causes irreversible brain damage, and could lead to other disorders and diseases later in life, according to public health officials.

Getting the youth to understand

At Smyrna High School and Sussex Central High School last week, students gathered to hear more about the dangers of alcohol. Robert Kracyla, the Deputy Director of the Division of Alcohol & Tobacco Enforcement, brought in “impairment goggles” – special goggles that when worn can replicate how difficult it can be to walk under the influence of alcohol.

Students volunteered to wear the impairment goggles and were asked to take nine steps on a straight black line on the floor.

“These goggles show how you would walk if you had a .08 alcohol level in your system,” Kracyla explained. “Let’s see how you would do.”

Kracyla raised the bar some more and had them also wear goggles that replicated the impairment caused by a .25 Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) level – a level of intoxication high enough to cause deadly car accidents.

One by one, the volunteers tried to walk the straight line using the impairment goggles. Students in the audience giggled as they saw how their classmates struggled to follow the marked line or even try to remain standing.

“I had a great time and they were very interactive,” Kracyla said. “Anytime I get an opportunity to raise awareness around underage drinking, it’s an opportunity for me to interact with kids in the prevention side before of we get to the enforcement side.”

Moving forward, campaign messages aimed at youth will be disseminated via billboards, social media, print, TV, and radio. There will also be posters in schools, stores, and all the likely places youth may frequent. Websites have also been set up to where youth and parents can find more information and even participate in contests for chance to win iTunes gift cards.

The campaign is being funded with money left over from a previous Strategic Prevention Framework State Incentive grant, according to DHSS.