CHIÈVRES, Belgium -- The need to provide meaningful education on the dangers of underage drinking and drug use here in the U.S. Army Garrison Benelux community is important for readiness. A few facts help to highlight that need:

- Alcohol and drugs are the leading causes of crime among youth.
- Alcohol and drugs are the leading factors in teenage suicide.
- More than 23 million people over the age of 12 are addicted to alcohol and other drugs.

Young people, like adults, drink alcohol for many different reasons. Some of the reasons may seem obvious, but understanding the feelings behind these reasons -- as well as how everyday teen life comes into play -- can be difficult.

Young people often drink to check out from family problems or issues with school and grades, loneliness, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety disorder and other mental health issues. They may drink to deal with the pressures of everyday social situations, to change their image or to fit in when moving to a new school or town, to gain confidence or lose inhibitions.

As teens get older and alcohol and drugs enter the picture, parents are faced with a unique set of challenges. Parents often forgive underage drinking as a "rite of passage." They can simply sit back and hope their kids will "get through it," or they can change their attitude and take an active role in learning about alcohol and drugs -- and help their kids to do the same.

It is important to take advantage of "teachable moments" when parents and other adults can help kids learn about underage drinking and drug use. It's not so much about having "the big talk," but about being there for them when the issues come up such as on TV, at the movies, on the radio, about celebrities or sports figures or about their friends.

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, here are some guidelines that can help parents talk about alcohol and drug use: For kids, knowing that someone is really listening is most important so parents should listen before they talk. Ask open-ended questions. Be involved. Be honest and open. Be positive. Talking about these issues can build bridges rather than walls.

Addiction is a chronic, progressive disease that can be linked to family history and genetics. If there is a family history of problems, be straightforward about it as one would be with any other chronic disease, such as heart disease, diabetes or cancer.

"Alcohol and drug use is a very risky business for young people," said Andrew Pucher, NCADD president and chief executive officer. "Parents can make a difference. The longer children delay drinking and drug use, the less likely they are to develop problems associated with it. That's why it is so important to help your child make smart decisions about alcohol and drug use."

In fostering "changing attitudes" parents can help kids understand that drinking isn't a "rite of passage." It's not a way to feel or be independent, "cool," or to fit in socially. Young people can learn that alcohol is not necessary for having a good time. Non-use of alcohol is a healthy and viable option and young adults can learn to respect another person's decision not to drink alcohol.

This April, the Army Substance Abuse Program at USAG Benelux is observing Alcohol Awareness Month. The program will host a variety of informational and educational events throughout the community to raise public awareness about underage drinking and encourage parents to speak to their kids early and often about alcohol and other drugs.

Additionally, ASAP urges local community organizations, schools, administrators and other agencies to get involved in these activities. It can make a tremendous difference in the community as ASAP reaches out to those who are most vulnerable and help the next generation avoid the many problems that underage alcohol and drug use can bring.

For more information about ASAP and Alcohol Awareness Month events, contact the ASAP prevention coordinator at DSN 423-2633/7076 or +32(0)6544-2633/7076.