Underage drinking has always, and let’s face it, will always be a problem. Connecticut as a state recognizes it has a problem with underage drinking and is looking outside the box for a way to curb teen drinking.
Even in the strict alcohol and drug-free environment of the Greenwich teen center, which promotes a philosophy of "party sober," a glamorized view of drinking seems inescapable for teens.
Over the past year, Arch Street (high school) witnessed eight instances in which students arrived drunk at events for high school-age teens. But the center remains a recognized safe haven compared to the parties that occur behind closed doors around Greenwich and lower Fairfield County.
Hours before high school students arrived clad in Saturday-night finery one day in September, strobe lights danced on the empty hardwood floors of the Arch Street Teen Center in cascades of red, blue and green as the room throbbed with the lyrics of "Shots" by electro hip-hop group LMFAO: "shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, everybody."
Bombarded by subliminal pressures to engage in what they say has become a normal social activity, teenagers in Greenwich said that underage drinking is more than common, it's rampant.
With parents who sometimes allow drinking, and anti-substance abuse pacts for participating in extracurricular activities that students say schools sometimes do not enforce, teens have come to see drinking as a risk, but often one that is worth taking. It is a problem health officials say is growing, lending more urgency to finding ways to engage young people in safe alternatives to alcohol use.
`No. 1 PUBLIC HEALTH PROBLEM'
Greenwich Academy junior Sydney Burnett, 16, said teen drinking in Greenwich is common, estimating "7 out of 10" teens have had a drink.
Her estimate is on par with that of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, which reported in June that 72.5 percent of high school students have consumed alcohol, and cited adolescent substance abuse as America's "No. 1 public health problem."
Connecticut ranks second among the 50 states for binge drinking and fourth for alcohol use among teens age 12 to 17. About 13 percent of teens in the state binge drink and nearly 19 percent participate in underage drinking in a single month, according to a 2009 report by the U.S. Department of Health and Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The message is clear – teens need more alcohol awareness. Their feeling of invincibility is the trap that primes them for possible future addiction issues.