Is teen drinking a problem in Barrow County? With prom nights in the spring and graduation parties on the horizon, the possibility of teen alcohol consumption is always a concern.
According to Barrow County Sheriff’s Office data, from Jan. 1, 2010, to March of this year, 128 minors were cited for the misdemeanor charge of alcohol consumption and 39 were arrested for possession.
Sheriff Jud Smith said that many of those citations were delivered to groups of teens at house parties. He added that many of the citations and arrests went to minors who were from counties other than Barrow who were at these parties.
The Sheriff said his department usually finds out about teen parties through someone calling in a noise complaint.
“Noise violations are a lead indicator of a bust in house party gatherings,” Smith said. “Its not anything that we go out and look for.”
However, Smith did not discount teen responsibility.
“We’ve been really lucky to realize that most kids will take collect keys,” he said.
Yet just being responsible about underage drinking and driving does not account for accidents, such as alcohol poisoning. Smith mentioned the tragedy of the 2007 death of a Winder-Barrow High School senior at an Auburn after-prom party who died of alcohol poisoning. The incident left the parent of the teen who threw the party with a host of charges before the death was eventually ruled accidental.
Smith said that twice a year a non-deputy member of the Sheriff’s Office is sent to purchase alcohol from local stores. He said the last time such an underage sale sting occurred, as many as half of the merchants were cited for selling booze to minors.
In addition to Barrow County, the Winder Police Department issued 117 citations to minors from Jan. 1, 2010, to April 7 of this year on charges related to alcohol use. Of those charges, 43 were arrested. Eight of those 43 were arrested for driving under the influence.
While those numbers may seem high, some data indicates that teen drinking in Barrow County isn’t as bad as some other areas. Local statistics were analyzed in a statewide 2010 Georgia State University study on risk factors on underage drinking. The assessment sought to identify key risk factors for underage drinking in 10 Georgia counties.
Barrow was ranked low compared to the state average in juvenile liquor arrest rates.
TEENS SPEAK TO ISSUE
A group of Barrow County teenagers, ages 15-19, were solicited through Facebook to comment on teen drinking in the community.
Most of those who responded said they had consumed alcohol, have friends whose parents let them consume alcohol and know someone who has been cited or arrested because of alcohol use.
The majority also said that they know someone who has a problem with alcohol and/or substance abuse.
One 17-year-old female told the Journal that most of her friends are underage drinkers.
“I have tons of friends who drink and honestly, I don’t think their parents have a clue,” the teen said. “I think it’s kind of sad. I seriously doubt they think it’s a problem though they really should because there’s nothing cool about getting ‘messed up.’
About parents who allow their children to consume alcohol, one 17-year-old said, “It seems like parents just don’t care.”
This young woman told the Journal that she thought underage drinking is a definite problem in the county.
“Everyone seems to be drinking now. She also said that she knows of teens who have had problems from drinking and teens that have been arrested or cited because of alcohol use.
“They do not know that they are throwing their lives away so early,” the teen added.
Asked if peer pressure to consume alcohol at the high school level is a problem, an 18-year-old said, “Depends on what kind of person you are. You got a backbone? Then peer pressure shouldn't be a problem.”
But some school-based problems have attempted to address the teen drinking issue.
Each spring, students at Apalachee High School participate in a program called Ghost Out, which is designed to help students make good choices. The program, which is assisted by the Barrow County Sheriff’s Office and Barrow County Emergency Services, allows students to create a reenactment of a car crash involving alcohol.
This year, the video is centered on the dangers of texting and driving coupled with drinking. The video can be viewed by visiting http://www.schooltube.com/video/bc0b51930e5ce1b1b195/2011-Apalachee-HS-Ghost-Out.