It is disturbing that more young teens, especially girls, are drinking alcohol. But what is even more alarming is how they are drinking it.
Officials at Rock Hill's Keystone Substance Abuse Center say that many underage drinkers no longer simply drink to get high but instead drink to induce oblivion. This binge-style drinking often revolves around drinking games in which drinkers ingest large amounts of alcohol quickly, sometimes to the point where they suffer alcohol poisoning and have to be rushed to the emergency room.
Jane Alleva, community relations director at Keystone, said evidence indicates that teenagers are drinking more than they have in the past.
"It's unprecedented. They play all of these drinking games, drinking five to seven shots in an hour," Alleva said. She notes that the body requires about an hour to break down the amount of alcohol contained in a beer or a shot glass.
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A recent survey of seventh-, ninth- and 11th-graders in the Rock Hill school district produced some specific numbers. For example, by 11th grade, 62 percent of those surveyed said they had consumed alcohol. More than 35 percent of participants in all three grades said they have ridden in a car with someone who had been drinking.
To combat this trend, educators are moving toward a more comprehensive approach to educating young people about the potential hazards of drinking. They have found that the old "Just Say No" approach has done little to curtail teen drinking.
Instead of simply telling teens not to drink until they are 21, new programs such as the "Too Good for Drugs," offer teens information and behavioral tactics that help them make smarter decisions about alcohol and drugs. Teens learn that binge drinking can lead to violence, unprotected sex and not only car accidents but also falls and other serious physical mishaps.
Schools in Fort Mill and Rock Hill are talking to students about drinking and drugs by the fifth grade. And that education continues until students leave high school.
We hope that these conversations take a frank and factual approach to education about drugs and alcohol. Simply trying to scare young people into refusing alcohol doesn't work, as the failure of programs such as "Just Say No" indicate. Credibility is important, and what teens hear in the classroom has to match what they see and experience when they are at parties and other social gatherings.
Keystone addresses that with classes covering topics such as self esteem, decision making, positive peer relationships, health consequences of substance abuse and fundamentals of addiction. These classes help explain not only the behavior but also what might motivate young people to drink themselves into oblivion. The more they understand those motivations, the better armed they will be to make the right decisions.
Did the survey provide any good news? One reassuring finding was that parents are the No. 1 factor influencing their children's decision not to drink. So, parents, don't assume that you can't make a difference in whether your children drink or not.
And the survey also highlights the importance of cracking down on merchants who sell alcohol to underage teens. Students surveyed said it now is easier to buy beer than tobacco.
York County All on Board -- a coalition of parents, teachers and community leaders who have joined to battle underage drinking -- is creating a "We ID" logo for merchants who sell alcohol. The logo, it is hoped, will discourage teens from trying to buy alcohol and encourage tellers to check customers' IDs.
Clearly, the effort to persuade young people to make sensible decisions about drugs and alcohol requires the support of the entire community. Parents, educators, merchants, doctors, experts in drug and alcohol rehabilitation, faith leaders and ordinary citizens -- all should offer guidance to help steer teens away from self-destructive behavior and toward a better understanding of how and when it is appropriate to use alcohol.
Entire community must become involved in the effort to discourage teen binge drinking.
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