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Changes in Society Enable Underage Drinking

Coalition members look at the ways underage drinking was viewed, enabled 25 years ago compared to now.

There are many factors that make it easier for underage youth to obtain alcohol these days, members of a local effort to stop underage drinking agree.

Michelle Nienhius, Prevention Consultant with the Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services, recently led a discussion on those factors with members of the Steppin' It Up Coalition, which seeks to keep alcohol and other drugs out of underage hands. Last year, the coalition received a large Drug-Free Communities grant to help them keep kids free from drugs and alcohol.

Cathy Breazeale, Director of Prevention at Behavioral Health Services of Pickens County, said parents and other adults in the community need to acknowledge that there's a problem.

“Sometimes we don't want to talk about it …but we need to understand that alcohol is a very high trend among our young people and we don't need to act like it can't happen right around our doors,” Brezeale said.

Nienhius asked members of the coalition to think about what was different about underage drinking 25 years ago compared to now.

“Think about what was different about alcohol 25 years ago versus nowadays,” she said.

Rev. Carrol Austin said he wasn't a drinker when he was younger, but he had friends who drank.

“They were a little bit more discreet 25 years ago,” Austin said. “Kids are more open now. They just go all-out with it, not caring who knows.”

There's more variety now as well compared to 25 years ago, said Barbara Moss.

“There was gin, vodka, something brown, beer,” she said.

“Your choices were a lot more limited,” Nienhius said. “For some people, if there wasn't anything that tasted good to them, that kind of drove them away from it, so to speak. Certainly, the market has opened up to where pretty much every flavor of the rainbow is available now.”

She also spoke of new products and how teens are using them to party.

“Some of these things don't even look like alcohol,” Brezeale said. “They look like some energy sweet drink, vitamin drink.”

Coalition Chairman Sam Wyche said media plays a bigger role than it once did.

“They see on television, everybody using alcohol without any taboos,” Wyche said. “The marketing is geared toward young and younger people. It almost gives them a license to drink. It must be okay, everybody else is doing it. That wasn't the case 25 years ago.”

“More channels on the TV, more shows, more things to watch and see, more movies, more songs, videos, those kinds of things, portraying drinking and not really showing some of the consequences of it,” Nienhius said.

Parental involvement has changed as well, coalition members said.

“I had a mama who ruled with an iron fist,” Austin said. “She'd tell you, 'No drinking.'”

“Parents are extremely important when it comes to that,” Nienhius said.

More parents were at home during the day, Austin said.

“You didn't have a lot of latchkey kids,” he said.

Nienhius agreed.

“It gives them idle time without supervision,” she said. “It kind of tempts them a little bit to maybe do something they wouldn't if Mom and Dad, aunt and uncle or grandparents or whomever were around.”

Breazeale said communities were more closely-knit, and neighbors kept an eye on each other.

“Even if it wasn't my parent, the neighbor was there, and if they told, I'm still in trouble,” she said.

“Some people don't even know their neighbors,” Nienhius said.

Chad Hendricks, associate pastor at Griffin Ebenezer Baptist Church, said the economy plays a role as well.

“Depression wasn't as prevalent as it is now,” he said. “There are a lot of moms and dads drinking now. That plays a part in making it easier for the kids.”

“They have access to it, absolutely,” Nienhius said.

Transportation is a huge factor, she said.

“It was a little less mobile 25 years ago,” Nienhius said. “Maybe you got the keys to the car for the night. But now we have a lot of kids that have access to transportation. That also makes the party more mobile.”

That, combined with texting and social media, means party plans can easily change – and those changes can be communicated without authorities knowing, Nienhius said.

“With the click of a couple of thumbs, you can easily say, 'Don't come here, we're moving the party down to so-and-so's house,'” she said.

While technology has made making a fake ID harder, it's not impossible.

“Unfortunately, as technology has gotten better, so has the ability to create a fake ID,” Nienhius said.

She covered some of the laws underage drinkers and those who provide them with their drinks could be charged under.

Minors can get charged for possession of beer, wine or liquor. Sellers can be charged with selling to minors.

“There's fines associated with that and potentially jail time associated with that,” Nienhius said.

There's also a transfer law that applies to adults providing alcohol to minors or minors providing alcohol to other minors. Other laws apply to unlawful purchase and fake Ids.

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