Program sets record straight on underage drinking
There’s good news and there’s bad news when it comes to underage drinking in Pee Dee.
The good news is that incidents of underage drinking seem to be on the decline.
The bad news is that those who do drink are drinking more than ever, according to Circle Park Prevention Services data.
“We’ve have some serious situations in Florence with 16- and 17-year -old kids just about drinking themselves to death,” said Clive Nance, coordinator for Circle Park. “… those who continue to drink are drinking way more than they ever have before — way more.”
The situation is critical, Nance said, and alcohol is the drug most abused by youth who say they turn to binge drinking as a means for fun, adventure or even peer acceptance.
But Circle Park, along with law enforcement officers in the 12th Judicial Circuit which covers Florence and Marion counties, are out in full force combatting the problem by raiding parties with underage drinkers, citing young offenders and the adults who aid them.
First-time underage drinkers who are caught have a means of expunging their criminal records while learning to make sound decisions in life.
That way is the Alcohol Education Program, a 13-hour course offered in Florence County and other counties in South Carolina.
The class is divided into four, two and one half-hour sessions and one three-hour session called Reality Check which includes offenders hearing talks given by law enforcement officers and members of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
“That program works with youth in getting them to identify their behaviors as to whether they are low-risk, medium-risk or high-risk,” Nance said.
“They look at the choices they make and make sure all of the choices they make are at least low risk.
“It not only addresses alcohol but it addresses all the the choices they make across the board, whether its sexual activity or getting into fights, whatever it may be. We want to try to get them to slow down and think about the choices they make.”
Underage drinking begins in the eighth grade for many offenders in the Pee Dee, Nance said.
“For the first time ever, girls are outdrinking boys,” he said.
Liquor, especially vodka, is the drink of choice for most underage drinkers because it’s clear and can be easily disguised as water, Nance said. Underage girls seem to prefer vodka with orange or lemon flavorings.
“Vodka is a little harder to detect. It doesn’t have as strong of a smell as beer,” Nance said. “And it’s found more readily and easier in their home or the home of friends.”
Less than 20 percent of the alcohol that is consumed by underage drinkers is purchased from a store because children get it at home, according to Circle Park data.
People who were raised in the 1950s, ’60s or ’70s who are now parents seem to be having trouble understanding how widespread underage drinking is and how much it has changed since they were younger, Nance said.
The “typical” underage drinker is a girl who drinks eight times a month and has about six drinks in one sitting, which is considered binge drinking, he said.
The program teaches that when an alcohol level is at .12 or .14, one’s ability to make sound decisions decreases.
“You’re not really able to control the choices you make,” Nance said. “From my perspective, that is really when girls begin putting themselves in a situation to be taken advantage of. What you begin to see is instances of date rape and sexual-type things take place.”
Some find it shocking that most underage drinkers are middle to upper class, attend private schools and are good students, Circle Park officials said. The reasons for drinking vary, but many students who have gone through the class say they began drinking because of pressure from parents to maintain good grades and participate in many after-school activities.
Children become stress-ed and depressed and turn to drinking as a means to cope, Nance said. Others who have completed the program say they drink out of boredom.
Whatever the reasons given, the Alcohol Education Program looks to help violators keep from making the same mistake twice, Nance said.
The education program began about 15 months ago. Thus far, 150 violators have completed the program, which costs each of them than $700 to complete successfully.