A harsh light will be shone on underage drinking at two town hall meetings scheduled this week for Portales and Clovis.
The meetings will examine the extent of underage drinking in the area and address ways to prevent it, said Terry Teti, a consultant with Community Resources in Portales.
According to the 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, there were nearly 11 million underage alcohol users between the ages of 12 and 20.
Clovis High School student Laura Pyeatt, 17, said drinking among her peers is prevalent, and alcohol use among her peers skyrocketed around age 16.
“I know a lot of kids that do drink, especially once they start driving. Then, they go to parties on the weekends,” she said.
Pyeatt, who indicated she doesn’t drink, said students involved in extracurricular activities are much less likely to turn to drinking for socialization and entertainment. “I’m sure (underage drinking) will happen, no matter what,” she said. “But being involved in extracurricular activities really helps.”
Teti, who will give a presentation at the Portales meeting and attend the Clovis meeting, said parents of teenagers who attend either of the meetings could be in for a shock.
“More young kids are drinking than parents know about,” Teti said. “The meetings will show parents what signs to look for.”
Teti said she has been working on alcohol control issues for more than 20 years. She said what is scary about teen drinking these days is that the age at which teens start drinking is becoming lower at a faster rate.
“Kids are starting drinking in the fifth and sixth grade,” Teti said. “We know of young girls in the area who have contracted STDs (sexually-transmitted diseases) after consumption of alcohol. Studies show that underage drinking can lead to more dangerous activity like drug use and sexual activity.”
Teti said even worse is the fact that children in fifth and sixth grades can receive irreparable brain damage from alcohol.
“Their thinking and reasoning capacity are diminished. They will not remember material as well,” Teti said. “One of the films that will be shown at the meeting will show how the brain chemistry of a 12-year-old is affected by alcohol.”
One way to reach youth is to openly discuss the effects of alcohol with them, according to Teti.
“If a teen comes home and says he or she was at a party and had a drink, the parent shouldn’t come down hard on the teen,” Teti said. “You should not openly condemn the child. You need to calmly discuss the issue and the effect alcohol has on the child.”
County health representatives from Roosevelt and Curry counties will also attend the meetings and make presentations, Teti said.
Teti said parents will come away from the meetings armed with the facts that might be able to persuade their children not to take the next drink.
The town hall meetings are part of a nationwide campaign sponsored by the Federal Interagency Coordinating Committee for the Prevention of Underage Drinking in partnership with state and local agencies and organizations.