Young. Eager. And Drunk.
A 12-year-old binger? Believe it. Alcohol abuse starts early.
Reaching Younger Kids continued...
"A Very Scary Ride," a story about two young boys picked up after
school by an inebriated uncle, sets up one lesson that Bliss took into a
Montana 2nd-grade classroom. "He smelled funny and was yelling, not nice
like usual," the story recounts.
"When we taught this lesson," says Bliss, "the students were so
inventive about what they could do, from going back into the school for a
'forgotten' book in order to tell a trusted adult, to saying they felt sick and
couldn't get in the car," says Bliss. The segment is part of an
eight-lesson series for each grade taught by trained volunteers, teachers, and
very carefully selected high school students. The program is scheduled to be
launched in fall 2000.
Charting the Damage
When Huggins visits high school classes, she takes an attention-getting
computer program that graphs blood alcohol rate depending on gender, weight,
and food intake. It offers students a quick look at the physiological effects
of having two drinks an hour, for example. (In this context, a drink is defined
as 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, or 1 ounce of hard liquor.) Another
tool that shows the effects of alcohol is a pair of special glasses that
simulate alcohol-impairment. A boy and a girl try to walk a straight line with
and without the goggles. "Usually they stop, because they realize they
can't do it," says Huggins. "We always point out that if they'd been
drinking, they'd probably have lost that judgment too," says Huggins.
"Maybe they'd be driving."
Each time Huggins talks to a group of high schoolers, she says, almost
invariably, at least one student will come up to her afterwards to say he is
worried about a friend or a family member who drinks too much. Huggins says
that recognizing the problem and finding help are two critical steps toward
improvement. Fortunately, she says, there are counselors, parent-teen sessions,
a hot line, and a teen-to-teen line available locally, as is true in many other
states, and advice abounds on the Internet.
If teens are drinking, says Huggins, it's usually binge drinking. "We
find that at a party a girl will typically have seven or eight drinks per hour,
and boys even more.
"In one of our recent teen-parent sessions, a 15-year-old girl told us
how much she drank, and her dad, sitting beside her, was in shock. He knew she
was drinking, because that's why they were there, but he hadn't realized how
much, or how close she had come to risking death from having such a high level
of alcohol in her blood. 'Why are you doing that to yourself?' was written all
over his face."
"Teens do not realize how much they're drinking, how much it affects
their systems," says Huggins. All the more reason to get the word out as
soon as possible. "We've got to reach the younger students."
Jeanie Puleston Fleming has written for The New York Times, Sunset,