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‘One night can affect the rest of your future’

There’s a calendar Bill’s friends at school keep, but it doesn’t have exam dates or football games on it.

“We mark our calendars every time we find out someone’s parents are going to be out of town,” the 17-year-old Sandburg High School senior said.

That’s when 10, 20, 50 kids descend on the house with cases of beer and bottles of vodka in hand. They hang out, get buzzed and watch football or cage fighting, Bill said. Some kids head upstairs to hook up, and at raucous parties stuff often goes missing or gets broken.

“The girls have one or two drinks, and the guys have a little more than that,” Bill said. “The troublemakers have a whole bottle of Jaeger(meister).”

Almost everyone drinks at the parties, Bill said, even kids who are driving home later.

“If you’re not drinking at a party, a lot of times people will hand you a beer and be like, come on, you can just have one or two,” he said. “It’s a little bit of peer pressure, and then it’s a little bit of, ‘Well, my parents do it, so why can’t I?’ You think you’re older than you are.”

In January, it was Bill’s turn to host the weekend bash while his parents were down in Florida. He invited 10 friends, who brought 10 of their friends, and soon their house was filled with screaming teens. At 2 a.m., police officers knocked on the door.

“I was in my house with my gym shorts and T-shirt on, and I didn’t have any shoes or socks,” Bill said. “The police took me and dragged me in the snow and put me face-first in it.”

Police gave out more than 20 tickets for underage drinking, and Bill also was charged with battery after an officer said Bill slammed the front door on his foot. Soon he was sitting in jail, shivering without a coat or shoes, waiting for the cops to call his parents.

“No one came to bail me out,” he said. “It was the worst (night) of my life.”

‘Risky business’

While alcohol-fueled parties like the one that landed Bill in jail are nothing new, experts say that the kids attending them keep getting younger and younger.

“The average age that kids start drinking now is 13,” said Stephen Wallace, chairman of teen educational organization Students Against Destructive Decisions. “If that’s the average age, then we know with certainty that there are younger kids using, and that’s troubling.”

That figure sounds right to Bill, who said he lagged behind most of his friends when it came to downing his first beer.

“I’m a late bloomer,” he said. “I was actually a sophomore when I first started drinking … I think that’s pretty young, but I know some of my friends that have been drinking since eighth grade or freshman year.”

Bill went to his first parties in Florida, where his family lived until his junior year. In comparison, he said, his classmates in Illinois partied a lot harder.

“In the summer, we’d be drinking five nights a week, and that’s a lot,” he said. “Your morals kick in the first time you (drink), and you’re like, ‘Uhh, I really shouldn’t be doing that,’ or ‘That’s not right,’ but after two or three times… that voice gets quieter and quieter in your head.”

Most of the time, kids would use fake IDs or older brothers and sisters to get their alcohol, Bill said, but his parents still knew that he drank.

“My dad’s sat me down plenty of times, and… been like, I know you’re going to do it, just be smart with it, think about who you’re hanging out with, don’t drive, and it never comes in the house,” he said.

But parents aren’t doing their kids any favors by turning a blind eye to teen drinking, Wallace said.

“I’m constantly startled by the permissiveness,” he said. “A lot of parents are just throwing in the towel before the game, saying there’s nothing I can do about it, and of course, they’re wrong.”

A SADD survey found 57 percent of kids allowed to drink at home also drink elsewhere, as opposed to 14 percent of teens who live in homes where alcohol is off-limits, Wallace said, adding that parents who think separating kids from car keys will keep them safe aren’t seeing the whole picture.

“We see kids dying from falling down stairs, choking on vomit; we had a case where a girl wandered away and drowned,” he said. “Alcohol is risky business.”

And because teens’ brains are still developing, substance addiction can develop much more quickly than in an adult, according to Mary Egan, a clinician with local teen substance abuse treatment center Rosecrance.

“It can happen in six months to two years. With adults, it takes five to 10 years,” she said.

The cost of drinking

Ask teens why they drink, and you might hear a lot of things: because it’s fun, because their friends do it, because it helps them relax. For Jon, who graduated from Andrew High School in Tinley Park this spring, it was a way to bond with a new group of friends.

“They were people I knew from football, and other things, just like classes, but I never hung out with them,” the 18-year-old said. “From prom weekend on, those were the friends I hung out with.”

Jon had occasionally drunk a beer or two with friends before his senior prom, but he soon started going out several nights a week with his new buddies to get drunk. He and his friends would find an empty house or yard and play beer pong or flipcup, but before long, the partying got old.

“I didn’t like the feeling it gave me, (of) not being able to control what I was doing,” Jon said. “I never liked the excuse that people gave, like, ‘Oh, I did that because I was drunk.'”

In July, he stopped drinking, and eventually stopped showing up at parties altogether. Explaining why he didn’t have a beer in his hand was just too much of a hassle.

“I was always ready to have a good time, even though I wasn’t drinking, but people just don’t understand,” Jon said. “People would ask me, and I’d be like, ‘Oh, I just don’t feel like it.’ I didn’t want to tell them the real reason, because I didn’t want to cause a huge fuss.”

Bill also dialed back his drinking after his arrest, once he was allowed out of the house again.

“My dad wouldn’t even look at me for the first two or three days,” he said. “When I talked to him, he was like, ‘Don’t plan on going anywhere for a while.'”

The teen was sentenced to 24 hours of community service and six months of court supervision, which he finished in June. He started avoiding big parties, he said, although his old friends ribbed him about it.

“They’re all under court supervision, too, and they’re like, ‘That’s nothing, don’t worry about it,'” Bill said.

But he knows now that getting drunk comes at a cost. He’s got an arrest behind him, and another friend lost a soccer scholarship to college after getting charged with drunken driving. Plenty more of his friends have lost their spots on sports teams at school because of drinking tickets.

“My dad was telling me when he was a kid, if someone was having a house party then the cops would just come and kick everybody out,” he said. “Now like, everyone’s getting all these tickets and charges…. One night can affect the rest of your future.”

Despite everything, though, Bill said he’s not going to give up drinking completely.

“Whenever I go out now, I’m like really careful on where I go and who I’m with and stuff, because certain kids are like cop magnets,” he said. “I think that I’m responsible with it.”

source: Southtown Star

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