Underage Alcohol Consumption Continues to be a Local and National Problem

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Written by Keagan Lanham, Special to the Woodgrove Outlander

Underage drinking by teens is happening today all over the United States. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), alcohol usage kills 4,700 teens each year. Over 40% of sophomores drink alcohol, and ten percent of all teenage drinkers binge drink. High school students who use alcohol or other substances are five times more likely to drop out of school.

“Teens drink because of curiosity, to relax, to fit in, and to feel mature,” says Delaware Nurse Kelly Hussong. Hussong has extensive experience working with adolescents struggling with alcohol abuse at Nemours Hospital.

“Although it’s illegal to buy alcohol in the United States until you reach the age of 21, most teens can still access it. It is, therefore, up to you to make a decision about drinking. Including the possibility of becoming addicted, the legal punishment is also severe.”

Underage alcohol consumption charges include probation, incarceration, fines, community service, enrollment into an alcohol education program, and driver’s license suspension. There could be a penalty of up to twelve months in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500 involved. Offenses that have the possibility of getting teens arrested can be underage possession of alcohol, fake IDs, and providing false information to a police officer.

Western Loudoun isn’t immune to the problem of underage drinking. Sophomore Sammy Pierce said, “I don’t know if it’s fair to say that Western Loudoun teens are known for drinking more than the teens from other areas, but that is the perception of a lot of people I talk to. Some of my friends who go to County (Loudoun County High School in Leesburg) say that there are lots of fun opportunities for students in Leesburg who don’t drink, but they hear about drinking parties in Western Loudoun pretty frequently.”

Senior Robbi Berka agreed with Pierce’s statements, saying, “I don’t know if teen drinking is a bigger problem here, because I think it’s everywhere, but it’s well-known that there are lots of parties where underage drinking takes place. It’s almost like that term ‘affluenza.’ Loudoun is an affluent county, and lots of kids seem to think it’s their privilege to drink.”

According to the Community Health Status Assessment in 2009 of Loudoun County teens, over 54% of students had used alcohol in their lifetime. This is more than had used cigarettes, marijuana, pain relievers or inhalants. 25.9% of students had used alcohol 30 days before taking the survey.

Teens in our area want to seek guidance regarding alcohol abuse or addiction should contact the Inova Loudoun Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, located in Leesburg, at 703-771-2841.

Sometimes, people need more extensive help than local rehabilitation centers can provide. Caron is an addiction treatment center located in Pennsylvania and Florida, however, the Pennsylvania center is the largest, with just under 200 beds. Caron has a twelve step program including a multitude of other disciplines, and they have a staff of psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, recreational staff, spiritual staff and more.

“We currently have 21 adolescent patients. Most of them are not diagnosed with a primary alcohol disorder, but most started or used alcohol early on,” says employee Luke Stopper.

Harms of underage drinking include legal issues, poor grades, and family problems. Legal and educational consequences due to drinking can greatly impact the teenager’s future.

“It can be difficult for some people to talk to adults about these issues, but a supportive person in a position to help can refer teens to a drug and alcohol counselor for evaluation and treatment,” says Hussong.