Teen drinking on rise

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sobering facts were presented at Tuesday’s town hall meeting on underage drinking.

Sponsored by the Children’s Policy Council Coalition and the Covington County Peer Helpers, the night gave participants chilling facts about the use of alcohol and the impact it can have on one’s life.

Statistics from last year’s annual Pride Survey, where students from sixth grade to 12th grade are questioned about the prevalence of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana, showed 14 percent of the nearly 2,500 students polled admitted to using alcohol.

At the meeting, speakers for the night – District Judge Trippy McGuire, Steve McGowin with the Andalusia Police Department and Lt. Lance Price with the Alabama Beverage Control Board – each spoke on why every one of those 346 children are taking their lives in their own hands when drinking.

McGuire said, as a juvenile judge, most of the teens he sees suffers from something he calls “it-won’t-happen-to-me-itis.”

“Young people face all sorts of peer pressure never before faced by any generation,” McGuire said. “I see that in juvenile court, and our culture does its best to lead young people down the wrong path of drinking, casual sex, drug activity and such. And as a result, it exposes young people a contagious disease I call ‘it-won’t-happen-to-me-itis.’

“All young people suffer from it,” he said. “The best defense against that is a parent. Parents do have influence. Be frank and honest with (one’s child). Spend time with your child. I say that love shouldn’t be spelled l-o-v-e, but t-i-m-e.”

McGowin, an APD patrol officer, proved to those attending that serious things can happen as the result of drunk driving. He spoke of his sister, Katrina. Monday marked the 29th year anniversary of her death in an alcohol-related accident.

“In the blink of an eye, everything changed forever,” he said before chronicling the things she missed in life such as graduating from high school, getting married and having children.

McGowin gave the crowd the following sobering statistics.

“From 2000-2010, approximately, 250,000 teens, age 16-19, were killed in U.S. due to alcohol, driving while drinking, taking some kind of drug or distracted driving such as talking on phone or texting,” he said. “To many, that number is in your mind and it doesn’t’ mean anything. There is approximately 230,000 people in Birmingham. It would be like all of them dead in 10 years.”

He said that over all number equates to 25,000 teens per year; 450 teens per week; 71 teens per day; or three per hour.

Price said some parents believe allowing a child to drink at home is a rite of passage.

“Say, their child is a senior in high school, so they get a glass wine or beer, and it’s OK,” he said of some parents’ mindset. “It’s not. It’s illegal

“The best advice I can give you is stay away from alcohol until you’re 21,” he said to the teens in the audience. “Just think, that’s all I’m asking. Use you’re head. You’re almost grown up, but use your head. Parents don’t want to come to the jail to pick you up or come to the hospital to see you hurt.

“This is a conversation parents need to have now with your child, because it’s better than with us on the side of the road,” he said.

Peer helpers groups from each of the area high schools also presented examples of projects done to combat underage drinking in the schools. The groups work to be role models and to serve as mentors to students.