On the Radar – Underage Drinking

Stay safe and make smart decisions while celebrating

by Trooper Bieber – April 20, 2017

We are in the midst of prom season and quickly approaching graduation. This is the time for celebrations. Unfortunately, those celebrations sometimes involve our teens using alcohol and/or drugs. Actually, alcohol is the most commonly abused drug.

Today I want to talk to both teens and adults about this issue in the hopes that you continue this conversation with each other at home. Please don’t view this as a lecture or a “scared straight” tactic. Hopefully I can provide information to help you make more informed decisions.

We know that underage drinking happens – let’s not be naïve about it. The 2013 PAYS (PA Youth Survey) reports that approximately 2/3 of Tioga County 10th graders have used alcohol at some point in their lives. But what’s even scarier than that is that most youth binge drink when they do drink.

What is binge drinking? The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse defines it as 5 or more drinks for a man, or 4 or more drinks for a woman in a hour timeframe. A drink can be a 12 oz beer, a 5 oz glass of wine, or a 1.5 oz shot of 80 proof liquor. They all have the same amount of alcohol. There are many other factors that affect how intoxicated a person will become when they are drinking. Some of those factors include weight, gender, what you have eaten, and if you are taking any medications.

Binge drinking is so dangerous because it is associated with the increased occurrence of injuries (due to crashes, falls, drowning, etc), assaults, sexually transmitted diseases, and alcohol poisoning. We know alcohol reduces inhibitions which results in poor decision making and engaging in risky behaviors.
Even if you’re not binge drinking, underage drinking in general has its own dangers. Research shows that consuming alcohol before the age of 15 greatly increases the likelihood of alcohol dependency. The brain is not fully developed until your mid 20’s. The use of alcohol can cause cognitive and learning problems in the developing brain.

Underage drinking can also affect you legally, financially, professionally, and socially. You could be charged criminally for consuming, possessing, purchasing, or transporting alcoholic beverages. Other charges might include public drunkenness, driving under the influence, or even worse being involved in a crash while driving under the influence.

Along with these criminal charges comes costs, fines, community service, or even jail time if you are 18 or older. Many people don’t consider the social ramifications that they and/or their family may suffer if they are involved in an underage drinking incident. Additionally, many employers will request criminal history backgrounds and check your social media sites to determine if you are the right kind of employee for their company.

What can you do to prevent or help alleviate a problem involving underage drinking?
First, you should have a plan before you go out. Preferably, abstain from underage drinking, but if you do become involved, you should have a safe plan to get home. Talk with your parents or an adult about your plans and be honest during your discussion.

If alcohol is involved in your celebration, please don’t drink and drive or ride with someone who has been drinking. The consequences are not worth it. Call for a ride from an adult or call a cab if necessary.
Know what you are consuming and keep your drink in sight. Unfortunately, you need to be alert for someone who may accidently or intentionally put something in your drink.

Know the signs of alcohol poisoning and call 911 right away if you suspect alcohol poisoning. If a person is passing out, unconscious, or not breathing, call for help as these are typical alcohol poisoning signs.

Are you aware of the PA Medical Amnesty Law? If you are with someone who needs medical attention for drug or alcohol overdose, you can call for help for them without fear of prosecution. If in good faith, you call for help and stay with the person to prevent death or serious injury, the caller is immune from prosecution for consumption or possession.

Remember, your choices don’t affect only you – your family, friends, and community can all be affected. The last thing an officer wants to do during their shift is to tell a parent that their child is deceased.

Parents and adults – what can you do to help? All this information about underage drinking can be a bit scary and overwhelming. The good news is that your teens are listening to you! According to the 2013 Roper Youth Report, 73% of teens say their parents have an influence over whether they decide to drink or not. Have those conversations with your kids from a young age and continue talking to them about this issue.

Be available for a ride if your teen needs to get out of a bad situation – whether they’ve been drinking or not. Know where they are going and who they will be with. Require them to check in with you. Not that you don’t trust them, but for your own peace of mind that they are safe.

Please DO NOT provide them with the alcohol or the party location involving alcohol! Some parents think it’s safer for the teens to drink in a “controlled environment”. You still run the risk of binge drinking, drug use, and alcohol poisoning. Even if you collect all their keys, if they want to leave, they will figure out a way. Also, you still run the risk of fatigued driving or even intoxicated driving the next morning.
Consider all the criminal, legal, financial penalties that will arise when something goes wrong.

Finally, if you know of an underage drinking party or issue, you can report these anonymously at 888-UNDER 21.

Enjoy your celebrations, but remember that one bad choice can change many lives forever. Have a safe plan before you go and know what to do if someone you know becomes victim of alcohol poisoning or overdose.

Idea/Concept: Trooper Bieber
Videography: Erin O’Shea, Andrew Moore
Video Editing: Andrew Moore
Writing: Trooper Bieber

Produced by Vogt Media
Funded by Matthews Motor Company, Laurel Health Center

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