Continuation of underage drinking in US prompts new prevention methods

Abby Pikett and Anton DiGiovanni

Takeimi Rao was only 14 years old when she died from alcohol poisoning at a slumber party spent with three of her friends. What was meant to be a fun Saturday night turned into the last night of Rao’s life, causing unimaginable pain within her parents, who were clueless that their daughter was drinking at the party. Underage drinking is still a huge problem in our current society with more awareness being brought to it every year.

Photos by Abby Pikett
Statistics and facts about underage drinking in the United States

The Issue at Hand
Underage drinking has been an issue involving minors and teenagers for years in the history of the United States. In North Carolina, one person dies every week due to underage drinking. Students may turn to alcohol for many reasons, whether it be to show independence, escape from stress, peer pressure, rebellious behavior, or just from boredom.
A 2016 survey resulted that in the past month, 19 percent of 12-20-year-olds have consumed alcohol, a 31 percent decrease from 2007. Though the number of underage drinkers is decreasing each year, attention still needs to be brought to this subject and prevention needs to be the main concern. Parents have the biggest influence over their children from a young age. Children should be taught about the dangers of alcohol when they are younger so they will not be tempted to try it when they are preteens or teenagers.
By age 15, one out of every three kids has consumed alcohol. Researchers at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) have found that the most effective strategy to prevent underage drinking is by educating youth on the effects of underage drinking and spreading awareness.
When asked about underage drinking, Kylan O’Neal, junior, said, “The downsides outweigh the upsides, your brain is still developing, you can damage your liver.”
Effects of Underage Drinking
There are numerous negative effects of underage drinking. Underage drinking can affect a person’s judgement, impulse control, consciousness, breathing, memory and coordination. Drinking at a younger age can also “wire” the brain for alcoholism later in life.
Short-term effects of drinking, such as mood shifts and sickness, pale in comparison to the long-term effects that can result in permanent damage to a person’s body and mind, especially teenagers. The rational part of a teenager’s brain does not fully develop until age 25, which means it is definitely unsafe for students to partake in drinking in high school or before age 21.
Sami Faydi and Jacob Goeke died resulting from a car collision involving underage drunk driving in High Point, NC in December of 2017. The underage drunk driver, 19-year-old Dwight Gray Jr., was not killed in the crash but experienced minor injuries. He was charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter, as well as a charge of driving while consuming under the age of 21.
Two lives were lost because of one person’s illegal choice. This shows that underage drinking does not just affect the person who chooses to drink, but their community and people around them, too. In this case, Gray’s decision affects himself, his family, the two young men he murdered, their families and everyone else that knew them.
Underage drinking is a gateway to other serious problems, such as underage drunk driving, alcoholism, violence and suicidal behavior.

Photos by Abby Pikett
Beer pong, a common drinking game, advertises their product to a younger audience, attracting underage drinkers.

“[Alcohol] can do a lot of damage. Students won’t be able to make clear choices, bad judgement, damaging effects to the actual brain, kills brain cells,” says Meryssa Wacholder, physical education teacher at Athens. “It will cause a lot of trouble for students.”
Prevention of Underage Drinking
The media plays a key role in the prevention of underage drinking, but also contributes to the issue. Though there are campaign advertisements against drinking that appear on television channels, there is still a wide range of shows and movies that glorify drinking, especially with teenagers. Television shows directed towards younger audiences often portray teenagers drinking at parties or with other friends. This can sometimes encourage teens to drink underage.
A key prevention method of underage drinking is for children to learn about the consequences of underage drinking before it becomes a problem in their lives. Parents and schools can inform students about the issue, encouraging them to seek help or guidance if they see drinking as an option for themselves.
“There should be structural time within school where you meet and talk about underage drinking. Students should feel safe about talking about a problem. They need someone who they can talk to,” said Heeba Shaikh, freshman at Athens Drive.
High school students can be greatly affected by drinking, athletes especially. Alcohol affects judgement and coordination, two factors that are important when playing a sport.
“[Alcohol] causes damage to the body and their physical fitness. They will get kicked off the team. They have got a lot on the line,” said Wacholder when asked about the effects of alcohol on Athens Drive athletes.
The best way to prevent underage drinking is to understand what causes it in the first place. Most teens turn to alcohol because of stress, peer pressure and boredom. Parents need to need to be wary of signs of stress in their child. Preventing underage drinking is a problem of habit. Alcohol is a highly addictive depressant. The most effective way to prevent teenagers from drinking is to give them something else to do with their time.
When asking Patrick Florio, driver’s ed teacher, about the solutions for underage drinking, he said, “Well, it all comes down to education. I think unfortunately as a culture, we sometimes make drinking look like something positive. We celebrate everything with drinking. We see adults drinking and driving. Unfortunately, we tend to do what our parents do whether we think we’re gonna do that or not because ‘If they do it I can do it.’I try not to take it from this materialistic viewpoint that drinking is terrible. I try to be more practical knowing that most people will. Most students eventually will try it. But, there’s a time and a place. Just like everything else.”