Evan's school is in Gahanna, a predominantly middle-class town in central Ohio. His class is 530 students, which is about 2 1/2 times the size of the classes in the school where I worked. Although the settings are much different, Evan's article demonstrates that both communities have a serious problem with teen drinking. His article, which I've edited for length, is below:
A teenager goes to a party at friend’s house after a football game on a Friday. There’s alcohol at the party, and although he’s never gotten drunk before, he decides he’d rather be cool and just go with the flow.
This is a common occurrence among teens these days. Teen drinking these days is a serious problem and often goes to an extent of which most teachers and adults are unaware.
According to the Primary Prevention Awareness, Attitude and Use Survey (PPAUS), an anonymous questionnaire given to high school age students, approximately 33 percent of students between ninth and 12th grade in Gahanna Lincoln High School drink alcohol at least once a month. This is a problem that stretches much further than the big cities. It has become a serious problem in Gahanna, as some students at Lincoln consume alcohol.
Drinking can be evident in settings throughout Gahanna. According to rumors throughout Lincoln, prior to its football game against Upper Arlington, a number of students were found under the influence of alcohol and some were able to get into the game without the knowledge of security.
Sandy Pershing, an administrator at GLHS, said such actions could have serious consequences. Any student caught drinking at a football game, “would probably get suspended from school."
Mary Anne Albanese, the GLHS Safe and Drug-Free Schools Counselor, said alcohol is the most serious threat to high school students “because of the availability, and sometimes they just don’t take the risk seriously. Also, it is so accepted with friends and family. The top three causes of death among teens are alcohol related."
A major problem that leads to alcohol use is the availability. “I drank anything I could get my hands on: beer, tequila, vodka, 151; scotch was easy to get because my dad has some around a lot,” an unnamed male sophomore said. One drink he recalls was “tequila with Bacardi 151 and coke. It tasted like crap, but an hour later when I got home it hit me like ‘whoa’.” He is now, however, proud to say that he has been alcohol free since middle school and plans on staying sober.
"It made me feel worse the day after, not because of hangovers, but because I knew the next day the choices I was making were really bad and it was just taking a toll on me and my grades suffered. I had a realization,” he said.
Most students do not drink very frequently, but when they do drink, it can lead to problems. One female junior said she drinks “just like once every couple months.” She said she most often drinks vodka and mixed drinks, as well as tequila and Jack Daniels. She does not tell many of her friends about her alcohol use, though. “Probably about like ten people know, so it’s not a well-known thing."
Although she chooses not to share her drinking with others, she does not consider it much of a problem. “I think I’m okay with it, because it’s never really been a problem. It’s not like I have to drink to have fun, so no, it’s not to that point yet,” she said.
Another female junior, however, said she has had bad experiences with alcohol use. At times when she has chosen to drink, it has led to some serious consequences. “I was at a friend’s house and their parents were gone and we started playing pong with vodka and lemonade. I got real drunk and started flirting heavily with some guy, so then we went up to a room and all I remember is I woke up the next morning next to him. It was the first time it ever got out of control.” This was not the only time things have ever gotten out of control for her.
“I went to a party once and there was punch and there was a mix and I didn’t know what was in it. I knew I shouldn’t drink it but I did anyway and got real drunk.” When asked about her preferences, she said she normally would have vodka or tequila when she drank and that beer and wine coolers are “for losers.”
Like the other interviewed girl, not many of her friends were ever aware of what she did.“Not many [know] because I don’t tell my friends because they wouldn’t approve. Just my friends I go to parties with. They’re all older, because I need a ride and a way to get home.”
Besides keeping their habits from friends, these students all had other things in common. They all started drinking at an early age, for one. “I had my first sip at nine,” said the sophomore. The first junior girl also started in sixth grade. Another thing in common is the influence of older friends. Both girls started drinking because older friends encouraged it. All of the teen drinkers tended to avoid beer and use harder drinks, such as vodka and tequila, especially. Some adults have such drinks on occasion, but they may not be keeping them from their children well enough, as is evident in the case of the sophomore boy.
Also, most teen drinkers never saw drinking as much of a problem.
When asked about whether she thought her drinking was a problem, the second
junior girl replied, “No, because I can control myself. I only do because I
enjoy it every once in a while, it’s not like an everyday thing.”
With teen drinking as big of a problem as it is, Albanese said that teachers and parents need to intensify alcohol prevention measures. It needs to start at home. “Parents are very important; they impact teen drinking the most. We need to keep telling them, because they don’t realize it,” Albanese said. She then said that the majority of alcohol use among teens could be prevented by parents.There is room for optimism, Albanese said, as alcohol abuse is decreasing both locally and nationally.
Aside from being very proud of my nephew for having his first article published, I was impressed with his ability to get his peers to open up about their drinking. Several things in the article are particularly alarming to me as an addiction specialist; the age of first use, the easy availability of the alcohol and the parents' lack of awareness. The article underscores that parents, teachers, school administrators and other concerned adults need to be much more aware of the seriousness of this problem.