Community discusses underage drinking at town hall meeting

Dozens of law enforcement officials, school administrators and members of the public met at the Family Connection March 29 to address the increasing problem of underage drinking.

Alabama Supreme Court Justice Sue Bell Cobb was the keynote speaker for the Shelby County Drug-Free Coalition program, along with a panel that included Shelby County Sheriff Chris Curry, District Juvenile Court Judge Jim Kramer, District Attorney Robby Owens, Shelby County Schools Superintendent Randy Fuller, Alabama Beverage Control Agent Robert Gautney and Bradford Health Services’ Therapist Adriane Ireland.

Family Connection Executive Director Susan Johnston opened the forum with a plea for help.

“This is a call to action for us to join together,” Johnston said. “Underage drinking is everyone’s problem.”

Cobb spoke next and shared experiences of how she sees the negative effects of alcohol every day.

“If I could just get rid of one thing, one thing that would reduce the cases I’ve seen by 60-80 percent, it would be drugs and alcohol,” Cobb said.

Cobb spoke about recent studies that state a child who drinks before the age of 15 is five times more likely to become dependant on alcohol.

“If we could get kids to postpone their decision about alcohol until 21, what a difference that would make,” Cobb said.

Cobb also spoke about the dangers and risks associated with drinking at an early age, including studies that have shown the irreversible effects drinking has on the brain in adolescents.

“This damage is permanent – you can’t go back and change it,” Cobb said. “We’ve got to stop the hijacking of children’s brains.”

Ireland, who sees teens and adults with drug and alcohol problems on a daily basis, said parents and kids alike must debunk the myth that alcohol is not as bad as other drugs.

“A lot of parents feel that if their kids are only drinking alcohol, then they’re OK,” Ireland said. “The effects are completely devastating.”

Owens shared several examples of the effects of parents hosting underage drinking parties, including those that ended with authorities having to inform a parent that their child was killed in an automobile accident.

“You have to tell people this isn’t OK. It’s amazing to me at the number of parents who think this is OK.” Owens said. “It’s not OK.”

Fuller said even responsible parents can be duped into allowing kids with alcohol in their home, but by being aware and setting an authoritative precedent it can be prevented.

“We ask our parents at our schools to be aware of all circles in your home. If you have kids in one area of the house, some will make their way to the back porch and then out to the yard. Parents need to walk around the house to where they park and check that area too,” Fuller said. “Parents have to have that relationship with their kids.”

Another way parents can ensure their children are abstaining from drugs and alcohol is something the school system currently does – testing.

“Home alcohol and drug-testing kits can be purchased at any CVS, Walgreens or pharmacy store,” Kramer said. “Show it to them and they’ll know you’re serious.”

Rachel Ivey, a D.A.R.E. resource officer with the Sheriff’s Office, said the easiest way for parents to curb underage drinking is to say “no.”

“It’s OK for you to tell your kids ‘no.’ What we need are parents who are willing to step up and say it’s not OK,” Ivey said. “We don’t tell our 12-year-old that since you’re going to be driving in a couple of years, here’s the keys.”

Anyone with information about underage drinking or parents hosting underage drinking parties should contact their local police department or the Sheriff’s Office tip line at 669-9116. The Sheriff’s Office also has an anonymous tip messenger on its Web site ShelbySO.com.