April is also Alcohol Awareness Month, and has been designated as such by the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) since April of 1987. For over 28 years, this organization, which was founded in 1944, has been tirelessly fighting to support, educate, and help individuals, and their loved ones overcome the negative effects of substance abuse. Widespread awareness on responsible alcohol consumption, as well as the consequences of irresponsible use and the triggers/motives that lead to abuse, are ways in which individuals can empower themselves with beneficial knowledge on how to avoid becoming a victim of alcoholism.

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionaryalcoholism has been defined as “a chronic progressive potentially fatal psychological and nutritional disorder associated with excessive and usually compulsive drinking of ethanol and characterized by frequent intoxication leading to dependence on or addiction to the substance, impairment of the ability to work and socialize, destructive behaviors (as drunken driving), tissue damage (as cirrhosis of the liver), and severe withdrawal symptoms upon detoxification.”

The pervasiveness and widespread use of alcohol in our society creates a Pandora’s Box effect, in which the presence of certain factors in an individual may easily lead them from a point of control to one of no return. It seems that alcohol’s persistent popularity is due in part to cultural and social ties that are taught, learned, and reinforced through social media, and common traditions/celebrations. A few examples of settings where alcohol is not only readily available, but also strongly encouraged, are: college and university campuses around the country; sporting events and tail-gating gatherings; momentous life-defining celebrations, such as weddings; parties of all sorts aka the “we just want to party” party; the legendary post-work happy-hour; weekday/weekend restaurant, bar, lounge, club outings; coming home after a long day at work and helping oneself to a “cold one” or a glass of wine. Alcohol consumption in the aforementioned settings demonstrates just a handful of socially “acceptable” places where the ingrained social cues to partake in the act of drinking come into place.

According to the World Health Organization, harmful use of alcohol causes 2.5 million deaths worldwide each year. Therefore, abuse of the ole “giggle water” (early 20th century reference to an intoxicating beverage; alcohol) is truly no laughing matter, and one’s use should be approached with caution and respect. It is easy to lose sight of the detrimental effects it can wreak on the mind, the body, and the spirit when consumed to excess. From a historical standpoint, drinking, in all its multifaceted and two-faced glory, has been a liquid witness to some of the greatest joys and the most heart-wrenching tribulations for many people around the world; we drink it to feel happy, we drink it when we are mad, and we drink it if we are sad. Through these behaviors we reaffirm the power and position of alcohol in our society and culture. And it’s through straightforward and realistic education regarding alcohol use that young people can learn to mature into responsible consumers of alcohol (if they so choose). Boring lectures about alcohol that likens it to the big bad wolf of Little Red Riding Hood fame may not be received with enough serious attention; however, a live Q & A with someone that has experienced and survived the devastating effects of alcoholism may prove rather eye-opening.

 There are currently many resources and services within Howard County that are available to those who feel they may be struggling with their ability to manage or control their use of alcohol. The Howard County Department of Health provides substance abuse and addiction services; Howard County General Hospital often provides classes and ongoing support groups regarding substance and/or alcohol abuse; Alcoholics Anonymous (Al-anon/Alano) meetings are held at the Serenity Center, and other locationsHoward County Mental Health Authority provides an extensive list of individual and group addiction counseling/therapy locations. Exploring each of the many resources available can be helpful, in order to discover what works for one’s personal goals towards recovery.

Let us take the time this month to reflect on our own personal relationship with alcohol, or reach out to someone in our lives who may be struggling with alcohol abuse right now. While there are many helpful resources for individuals, there are also plenty of resources available for their friends and family, i.e. Smart Recovery for family friends and Al Anon Family Groups.

Alcohol can be enjoyed with control and moderation. However, when drinking takes a dark turn, and abuse and addiction surfaces, seek the help you need. Just remember, you’re never alone.

When Jinelee De Souza isn’t channeling her inner super-heroine at Howard County Library System as an Instructor & Research Specialist, she’s doing so at the gym, during impromptu photoshoots with her bff, and everywhere in between.


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Senior Week

Senior Week

I am a two-time survivor of Senior Week in Ocean City. Not only did my parents let me go my senior year of high school, they let me go my junior year of high school, as well.  Both times I attended with relatively stable, well-behaved girls. Both times we stayed out of trouble. In fact, during the first trip, one of my roomies was questioned by an officer for throwing a can of beer away. She was of legal age (back in the day you could drink beer or wine when you were 18) and she was being responsible. He was impressed. She later married him. But I digress. Because, here’s the thing. Most of our well-behaved classmates did take risks they wouldn’t have taken at home. They drank when underage, they drove after drinking, they went to parties at other places where they didn’t know the hosts, they wandered off from the pack and didn’t show back up until morning, they swam in the ocean at night and they walked precariously on the balcony railings of high rises. They surely didn’t stay hydrated and they didn’t apply sunscreen. And the ones that did behave were put at risk by rescuing friends who were behaving badly.

As a parent, I understood this and encouraged my own children to take alternative trips with their friends. It wasn’t because I didn’t trust them. I did trust them. I trusted that they’d behave like kids and I trusted that they’d be surrounded by kids behaving like kids. I was realistic.

Each parent has to make the right decision for his or her child and I don’t disagree that Senior Week can be a good introduction to leaving the nest for college. So if you’ve decided to let them go, here are 10 tips to make it a safer experience.

  1. Encourage your children to skip Ocean City and find a destination where there are fewer opportunities for mischief. (I know, I know… Fat chance.)
  2. Sit down with your grad and discuss the rules. Number One Rule: Your child must answer his phone whenever you call and must check in on a regular basis.
  3. Encourage your child to park their car and leave it. Use the buses and mass transportation whenever possible and don’t ride with people they don’t know.
  4. Talk to them about drinking and drugs- the voluntary kind. Remind them that they are underage and if caught drinking, they could lose their license. (A new law in Maryland). Encourage them to be responsible for themselves and for their friends. Talk to them about involuntary drinking and drug use. Tell them to keep their glasses in their hands and their eyes on their drinks.
  5. Remind them about personal safety. Staying with the group. Avoiding strangers. And generally acting responsibly to ensure their own safety and that of their friends.
  6. Remind them to stay hydrated, use sunscreen and eat properly.
  7. Give them the number of the local emergency room and/or urgent care center and make sure they carry their I.D. (the real one) with them at all times in case of an emergency.
  8. Take advantage of HC DrugFree’s annual “Senior Week: Staying Safe in Ocean City” programs. Parents and seniors can meet with representatives of the Ocean City Police Department, ask questions and learn tips on how to have fun safely. Parents can also learn about their own accountability in providing vehicles, purchasing alcohol, signing leases, etc. for their children. It’s always nice to have the name of someone in the department your child can call if they get in trouble and it’s nice for you to have the name of someone to call if your kid forgets Rule Number One. (There are two upcoming programs on Thursday, March 13th and Thursday, March 20th. Check out the HC DrugFree page for more information.)
  9. If they’re headed to Ocean City, check out the Play It Safe Ocean City program, which offers perks like concerts, activities and free bus rides during the week.
  10. Finally, remind them that safety comes first and if they think a situation is out of hand, they need to remove themselves from the situation and/or involve an adult if necessary. (Promise them you will not ground them for life if they call you and need your help- or if you do ground them for life- that you still love them very, very much).

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10003368_10152327573357502_1040122621_n15188_10203659153064046_623180768_nYou may have recently received an AMBER Alert on your wireless device.
Today, in Dundalk, MD an 11 year old girl, Caitlyn M. Virts was abducted. Maryland law-enforcement issued an AMBER Alert in hopes that Caitlyn may be returned safely.

Do you know about the Emergency Alert System (EAS)? You’ve probably been annoyed by the strange beeps and buzzes that come over the radio, proclaiming to be a test, assuring that there are no problems, or you may have seen the scroll of information across your TV screen when there’s terrible weather underway. This system was put in place to allow the President of the United States to address the nation in an emergency situation as well as disseminate other emergency information (like weather alerts) to keep the public abreast of whatever the situation may be.

The AMBER Alert is an excellent example of cross-collaboration among separate interests -for the common good. The “common good” or “public interest” in this case is child safety. Law-enforcement, governmental agencies, broadcast, and wireless carriers band together and send out pertinent information via media outlets in the efforts to alert the public about a child who’s been abducted. When more eyes are watching, it’s more likely a suspect will be found.

If you want to learn more about the namesake of the AMBER Alert (Amber Hagerman), try the Dallas Morning News. In short, The AMBER Alert is a life-saving warning that may increase the recovery efforts of abducted children.

So, how did you get contacted? Well, thanks to this kind of collaboration, the FCC, FEMA, and private wireless carriers have been working together to create a way to reach as many “eyes” as possible using wireless carriers’ cell towers. Basically, a mass text message (one-directional / read-only) is sent to all cellphones within a region (the zone of emergency) sounding off with the alert. These Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) are what you and I and a good chunk (if not all) of Maryland received today. You got that text because you were located in the “zone of emergency.”

There are only three kinds of messages you will receive (free of charge) via WEA:

  1. Alerts issued by the President
  2. Alerts involving imminent threats to safety or life
  3. AMBER Alerts

WEA complements EAS well and makes for a pretty well-informed public when it comes to emergency situations, local and national.

So, if the AMBER Alert surprised you, (like it did me) – GOOD. It did its job. You have been alerted to an emergency situation and your vigilance could help save a child’s life.

JP is the HCLS Editor & Blog Coordinator for Well & Wise. She is also a Children’s Instructor & Research Specialist at the Savage Branch. She is a storyteller, wannabe triathlete, KPOP-addict, baker of cupcakes, cancer survivor, and liver transplant recipient.

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Do you have an emerging reader who also thinks she knows what’s best for her – or is that just me? Well, if you do, and you’re trying to get some simple safety lessons through that adorable (and thick) skull of hers, I have a book for you.

You may want to hand your little reader/know-it-all Should Henry Wear a Helmet?: Staying Safe by Rebecca Rissman. Last month, my suggestions to cure a child of boredom put the onus on parents to do some of the homework, but this time it’s up to the kids to do the work. Ok, maybe parents will want to talk to the kids a little too.

Should Henry Wear a Helmet? is part of Capstone’s What Would You Do? Series designed to “guide readers through the decision-making process. Clear photographs present the scenario and possible outcomes, while simple text asks readers ‘What would you do?’ Brief explanations after each scenario spark conversation for a deeper discussion of the issue.”

Should Henry Wear a Helmet? gives young readers four scenarios to consider: 

1. Should Henry wear a helmet when biking?
2. Should Billy look both ways when crossing the street?
3. Should Bella wear her seat belt in the car?
4. Should Charlotte help her aunt with the cooking when her aunt has left the room?

These are important lessons written in simple and clear language. They serve a dual purpose, teaching basic safety lessons, but also helping the reader see that actions may have consequences they should consider before making decisions. I also feel that letting a child read these lessons on his/her own might more strongly enforce them since we all know that parents know nothing (at least in the minds of certain headstrong children).

Joanne Sobieck-Lingg is glad to blog about her many, disparate interests (though expert in none, except maybe parenthetical asides). In past lives, she was a writer, proofreader, editor, project manager, teacher, and even co-coordinator of a certain health blog. She has been happily ensconced among the fiction and teen books at the Central Branch of HCLS since 2003.




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Candy Corn

On Monday, the Howard County Police published a press release reminding Howard County residents to practice safe trick-or-treating and be assured of police presence in residential neighborhoods this Halloween.

Today promises to be an exciting holiday of fun with friends and neighbors handing out an assortment of Halloween treats. Here are the safety highlights found in the press release:

  1. Encourage children to trick-or-treat before dark. After dark, an adult chaperone should carry a flashlight and choose well-lighted streets.
  2. Wear costumes that are short, snug and flame retardant. Flowing sleeves, capes and skirts can cause children to trip and can catch fire if they brush against candle flames. Also be sure to wear light colors or reflective tape.
  3. Avoid masks that can obstruct vision. Use face paint instead or make sure mask eye holes are wide enough.
  4. Discourage the use of fake knives, guns and swords, as they may result in aggressive behavior. If these types of props are used, be sure they are made of flexible materials, such as foam or rubber.
  5. Stay in groups while trick-or-treating, and make sure young children always are accompanied by adults.
  6. Teach children that they should NEVER go into a stranger’s home or car.
  7. Eat dinner before trick-or-treating to prevent the urge to eat treats before they have been inspected by parents. Never eat treats that have been opened.
  8. Leave porch or other outside lights on to make clear that trick-or-treaters are welcome.

Being healthy means more than limiting your sweets intake this Halloween, it means being aware and taking note of your surroundings too. Have a happy, healthy Halloween, Howard County!

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Do you have bottles of unused or expired drugs?

I have a sealed jar of brightly colored pills sitting on my kitchen counter- nearly a quart of expired medication. I was inspired to cull through and remove the out of date and no longer used medications after I wrote this post about accidental poisoning. It is amazing, even frightening, how many types of drugs a family can unintentionally stockpile over the years. But, I’m embarrassed to admit that they’ve been on my counter this long. Good intentions gone awry.  I started to throw them in the trash but then thought of the potential environmental hazard they’d pose. I considered flushing them- but wasn’t sure that was as a good idea for our sewer treatment facilities.  The Johns Hopkins Outpatient pharmacy in Columbia has nifty little envelopes you can buy to ship your drugs away for safe disposal, but I have too many to fit in the envelope.  (It would be fine if I cleaned out my medicine cabinet on an annual basis as any well & wise citizen should!).  Finally, though, thanks to the DEA, the Howard County Police Department and HC Drugfree, I have an answer!

Be sure to black out personal information

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA’s) sixth semiannual National Take Back Day program will be held Saturday, October 26, 2013 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.  This is a wildly successful national program. At the last event on April 27, 742,497 pounds (371 tons) of prescription medications were collected from members of the public at more than 5,829 locations manned by 4,312 state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies that partnered with DEA on the event.  When added to the collections from DEA’s previous five Take-Back events, more than 2.8 million pounds (1,409 tons) of prescription medications have been removed from circulation.


Responsibly disposing of these medications is not only better for the environment it is much safer for us. Removing these drugs from the home significantly reduces the potential for misuse and abuse. Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that 70 percent of misuses of prescription opioid medication can be tied to obtaining the medication from family or friends – often from home medicine cabinets. And the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that unintentional deaths from narcotic pain relief drugs are a national epidemic. 27,500 people in the United States died of unintentional drug overdoses in 2007.  DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart recognizes the issues at hand and says, “While a uniform system for prescription drug disposal is being finalized, we will continue to sponsor these important take-back opportunities as a service to our communities.”

The Food and Drug Administration encourages all citizens to take advantage of the Take Back initiative and has additional information on its website about the safe disposal of drugs, including this easily printable pdf.   One last important piece of advice, after you sort through your medications and identify those you no longer need, make sure you remove prescription drug labels from the bottle, or black out your private patient information.

Medication disposal sites in Howard County  are open on Saturday from  10: 00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

  • Harper’s Choice Community Policing Office 5485 Harpers Farm Road, Columbia.
  • Howard County Police Northern District, 3410 Courthouse Drive, Ellicott City.
  • Howard County Police Southern District, 11226 Scaggsville, Road, Laurel.
  • Long Reach Community Policing Office, 8775 Cloudleap Court, Columbia.
  • Oakland Mills Community Policing Office, 5820 Steven’s Forest Road, Columbia.
  • Owen Brown Community Policing Office, 7154 Cradlerock Way, Columbia.
  • North Laurel Community Policing Office, 9411 Whiskey Bottom Road, Laurel.
  • Gary Arthur Community Center, 2400 Route 97, Cooksville.
  • Wilde Lake Village HC Drugfree Office, 10451 Twin Rivers Road, Suite 404, Columbia.

For other nearby locations in Maryland and across the nation visit the National Drug Take Back website.






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