Monday, August 20, 2007

Peers press friends into drinking, experts say Teens overlook alcohol dangers

Teenagers say they turn to drinking to relax, have fun

To understand the scope of the problem of teen drinking and alcohol abuse in our area, one needs only talk to a teen that has experienced it.

"(I started drinking) at about 15," said a 17-year-old senior at Northwest High School. "I first started drinking just to get away from the pressure, and it was a way I could relax ... (alcohol) is easy to get a hold of here and it's pretty relaxing, and I have fun."

The teen, who spoke to The Leaf-Chronicle under conditions of anonymity, said there are a lot of teens who drink, and not just from his school.

"There's definitely a lot who drink, for sure," he said.

The teen, who says he drinks about once a week, says he tries to keep his school life and partying separate, but "I have come to school messed up before," and at last year's prom he was "a little tipsy."

The best time he has ever had drinking, the teen said, was followed by the worst hangover he ever had.

"(My friend's) mom got us alcohol and dropped us off (at my house)," the teen said, mentioning he had $60 worth of alcohol plus unknown prescription medicine to party with.

"It was awesome — we drank some on the way to my house, and then when we got back there we took the pills, and after like 20 minutes we were messed up ... the room started spinning ... before we knew it the sun was coming up ... we drank and puked then ate, drank and puked some more.

"I remember waking up and immediately puking in a nearby trash can beside my bed," the teen said. "I was sick for the rest of the day. ... Besides that, I've never had another hangover."

The teen said drinking binges, for him, also led to sexual promiscuity and three instances of drunken driving.

Does his mother know about his drinking habits?

"I don't know," the teen said. "What she doesn't know won't hurt her."

As far as quitting goes, the teen said no amount of education will make him quit — nor will getting caught.

"Right now, I don't think I'll get caught," the teen said. "If I want to quit, I will."
A common problem

Vonda St. Amant, development director of the YMCA said stories such as this teen's are not uncommon.

"As we talk with youth who are part of YMCA programs and ask them what are pressing issues that they face and pressures they deal with in school ... what we are hearing most often is the pressure to drink," said St. Amant, noting that while some kids may feel pressured to drink, others simply do it because "it's fun and it provides a spontaneous outcome."

"We knew that in trying to grasp the issue, that underage drinking also leads to other risky behavior," St. Amant said. "It leads to violence, it leads to fighting and it leads to premarital sex."

St. Amant surveyed a group of teens last year about teen drinking and said with most of the responses, "the reason they do it is stress to do well in school and excel in sports and to meet people."
A startling call

One local parent knows all too well how prevalent teen drinking is in the area — her son was recently cited by the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office for underage drinking.

It all started with a 3 a.m. phone call.

"He needed a ride to be picked up from his friend's house, and I asked him why," said the mother, who spoke under the condition of anonymity. "He said some kids were drinking and the party got loud, and somebody called the deputies, and they came out and started busting kids. ... They wouldn't let him leave in his car.

"It made me think it is a little more serious than I thought and made me want to find out where this is coming from," she said.

Her son, an 18-year-old who graduated from Montgomery County High School last May, said he started drinking at 17 because "it's a great way to meet people and be social."

The teen's mother took immediate action, grounding him.

"I put him on restriction," she said. "I took away his car and only let him use it for work."

The woman said her son is a good student and had not been rebellious in the past, but her frustration is that "all you can do as a parent is teach your kids what's right and hope your kids make the right decisions.

"It's pretty hard (to stop them from drinking) unless you ostracize them from their friends, and you can't really do that," she said.

"As a parent, we just have to instruct (kids) that what they decide can negatively affect the rest of their lives," she said. "You have to help them see the future beyond the next party."

The woman said her son is now headed in the right direction — he's going to college this fall.
Troubled 13-year-old

The Rev. Marvin Barner, founder and chairman of The Ripple, counsels many troubled teens through the faith-based organization, and during the school year he said he may deal with nine or 10 teens a week who have problems with drinking.

"You'd really be surprised," Barner said.

And the problem tends to be caused mostly by peer pressure.

"No child is going to wake up and while mom is fixing breakfast ... wonder, 'Hey, I wonder what Jim Beam tastes like,'" Barner said.

Of those he's counseled, the story of one 13-year-old girl sticks out in his mind.

Barner said he worked with a girl who had been kicked out of school for fighting, and she had turned to drinking for one reason — she felt she couldn't live up to her parents' expectations because of her super-student older sister.

"She catches weight from her parents who ask, 'Why can't you be like your older sister?" Barner said. "Her first form of relaxation was weed, but she didn't like it, and because of peer pressure she was introduced to drinking."

Barner said many children fall to alcohol because they're busy living up to the standards of their parents, who think things should still be done like they were when they were kids.

"These are different fears that kids are dealing with these days," Barner said.

The girl, whom Barner said has been clean for about four months, is now pregnant.
A religious view

The Rev. Michael Bane, director of family ministry at Grace Community Church, said he knows from conversations he's had with kids at church that teen drinking is common.

"I do think there's a lot of underage drinking that happens," Bane said. "Is it any more than any other community? I'm not sure, but we do know it's an issue."

Bane said it's not just the bad kids who struggle with drinking — good kids deal with it as well.

"Teens in this generation are curious — they see the commercials and how (drinking) is portrayed," Bane said.

"We try to kind of help them see there are other people out there and that not everybody is drinking," Bane said.
'Cultural piece'

Gavic Chandler, coordinator of Preferred Options child services of Centerstone in Clarksville, said it's obvious there are problems with teen drinking in the area.

"We've had children recently who have gotten into automobile accidents and lost schoolmates to accidents," Chandler said. "There's also kids who have been arrested for other charges and one of the catalysts was consumption of alcohol, access (to things they shouldn't have access to) and boredom."

Chandler also said blanket statements shouldn't be made for all teen drinkers — there are "cultural pieces" involved sometimes.

"It may be a religious piece in which children join at the meal and either wine is served or beer is served and watered down for them until they reach a particular age," Chandler said. "We don't want to make blanket statements because it also has to be made within the context of family dynamics — the family values, the culture and the religion of the family.

"What's not acceptable is inappropriate behavior that draws attention to the experimentation (with alcohol) or use, abuse or addiction," Chandler said.

source: The Leaf Chronicle

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