Community efforts confront teen drinking

Steena Hymes

March 13, 2014

The average age at which Troup County teens start drinking alcohol is 12, according to a survey done by Troup County Prevention Coalition. While 12 year olds can’t even drive or get into an R rated movie, they are already engaging in drinking activities causing a multitude of dangers physically and developmentally.

“What our main problem here in Troup County is that everyone seems to view teen drinking as a rite of passage,” Jamie Daniel of the Troup County Prevention Coalition said.

One of the missions of the TCPC is to inform teens about the dangers and consequences of alcohol and drug use.

Out of 3,741 high school aged teens in Troup County surveyed for the 2012-2013 school year, 671 teens from sixth to 12th grade admitted to having a drink in the last 30 days.

“We have a big enough problem where I wish more people’s eyes were open, yet we do have 2,000 plus students who are not drinking and by far are the majority,” Daniel said.

One of the coalition’s preventative measures is its Youth Advisory Board made up of teens from all three public high schools and LaGrange academy. The board is currently made up of 17 teens. Part of their role on this board is helping out with several prevention projects including assisting police with compliance checks or surveying environmental checks of businesses around town based on alcohol advertising, display and availability.

By engaging with teens who abstain from alcohol, Daniel said the goal is to reach middle school aged kids before they have their first drink.

Parents’ role in a child’s perception of alcohol plays a vital part in their drinking habits Daniel said.

According to the survey, when asked the question of whether parents disapprove of alcohol consumption, the number drops significantly, around 10 points, once students enter the 11th or 12th grade.

Daniel said teaching kids at a young age and removing their exposure to alcohol could impact the age at which they begin drinking. Something as simple as not keeping alcohol in the kitchen refrigerator or refraining from having a child grab their parent a beer from the fridge would send the message that they shouldn’t even be touching it.

Teaching children at a young age that adults can have fun without alcohol could change their habits Daniel said.

Daniel said the biggest challenge in stopping teens from drinking alcohol is the public perception of drinking as a rite of passage and is something normal teens do.

“It’s so hard because what I want to do is go to the parents and go ‘we have a problem and you’re not seeing it’,” Daniel said.

Local law enforcement have reported seeing a problem with teen alcohol use and abuse as well.

“We have seen a high incidence of alcohol use among the teens,” Troup County Sheriff’s Sgt. Nathan Taylor said. “Where they get their alcohol from is a big question.”

Some get their alcohol through older friends, stores or even parents Taylor said.

In an effort to prevent minors’ access to alcohol, the Troup County Sheriff’s Office used an underage informant to try and buy alcohol from stores outside the city limits. Of 20 stores, 10 sold to the minor.

Sgt. Mark Cavender with LaGrange police said that in 2013, of the 101 business checks conducted, there were 22 reported incidents where businesses were not in compliance underage selling laws.

“One of our biggest goals, preventative-wise, is to cut the head off so to speak,” Taylor said. “If we can go to these stores and stop them from selling - that would put a major dent in consumption of alcohol by minors.”

Marlis MaGill, Nurse Practitioner with Emory Clark-Holder Clinic said that alcohol has a huge affect on the brain, especially for teens because the brain doesn’t mature until the age 25.

MaGill said alcohol consumption impairs the brain’s decision-making skills, memory and reactions causing long-term damage.

“The things normal children should be able to function with, alcohol slows it down,” she said.

However, MaGill said the emotional impacts of alcohol has the most significant effects as teens who consume large amounts of alcohol will start to withdraw from all emotional support and coping mechanism. With that, she said it lowers their inhibitions which leads to other dangerous factors such as teen pregnancy, drugs, sexually transmitted infections and depression.

The habits of teen drinking presents an even more dangerous problem as the large majority of teens binge drink as a way to get drunk as fast as possible.

According to the 2013 Prevention Status Report done by the Center for Disease Control, binge drinking results in 2,555 deaths per year in Georgia.

MaGill said binge drinking is about five drinks in one sitting for boys and four drinks for girls. She said the dangers in binge drinking is that it cause seizures, alcohol poisoning and dehydration but mostly it causes blackouts or memory loss.

“I can’t tell you how many teenage girls I see in here that have contracted a sexually transmitted disease through a time they were having sex and can’t remember what happen,” MaGill said.

MaGill said research shows that teens who start drinking at 15 or younger are five times more likely to become an alcoholic.

Aside from the health risk factors involved, the true danger with underage drinking, as with all drinking, is when someone decides to get behind the wheel.

According to the TCPC survey, 536 students admitted to being in a car with a driver under the influence in the past 30 days. 113 admitted to driving under the influence themselves.

According to Detective Chris Pritchett with the LaGrange police, from March 9, 2013, through March 9, 2014, police arrested 20 people for drinking and driving who were under the age of 21.

“If we could just get people out there to let us know when this happens, if they see a party with underage drinking, don’t just ignore it, call us because you never know when one of those children could jump in a car and take off leaving… we could save a life,” Taylor said.