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Group warns of underage drinking problems

WATKINS GLEN--The Schuyler County Coalition on Underage Drinking and Drugs (SCUDD) held their third community forum on substance abuse Tuesday, April 19 in the Watkins Glen elementary auditorium. This forum addressed the issue of alcohol abuse and its impact upon those in the community who drink while younger than the legal age limit.
"Alcohol, more than any other drug, is the gateway to unintended consequences," said Chief Assistant District Attorney Matthew Hayden, who moderated the event.
According to Schuyler County Public Health, the amount of teenagers drinking in Schuyler County exceeds the national average. Billie Kingsbury-Lohr, director of programs for the Council on Alcoholism and Addictions of the Finger Lakes, presented the numbers, indicating 33.9 percent of eighth grade students reported ever using alcohol, versus 26.1 percent nationally. This increases to 59.6 percent of 10th graders (47.1 percent nationally) and 80.6 percent of 12th graders (64 percent nationally). Lohr noted this amounts to half of grade seven through 12 students in Schuyler County having used alcohol, with one in four students currently using alcohol.
Lohr highlighted several of the developmental issues underage alcohol use can cause in teenagers. She said teens who start using alcohol before they are 15 years old are six times more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder than those who wait until the legal drinking age of 21. Lohr also explained alcohol's impact on brain development, which continues into a person's mid-20s. She said alcohol is a depressant on the central nervous system, impairing one's inhibitions as well as motor skills, speech and ability to learn or retain knowledge.
Lohr also spoke briefly about the legal penalties for parents who allow underage drinking in their home or on their property. She noted parents can be charged with unlawfully dealing with a minor or endangering the welfare of a minor, both of which are class A misdemeanors which bring the potential of one year in jail. They can be charged if they provide the alcohol, knowingly allow teens to consume alcohol on their property or host a party with underage drinking. Parents can also be charged if someone is injured on their property, a neighbor's property is damaged or there is an accident that causes injury or death as a result of the party, even if it occurs after they left the party.
Several students from Schuyler County Teens Against Alcohol, Nicotine and Other Drugs (STAND) and Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) presented on their findings at their school. The students talked to several of their classmates, many of whom were hesitant to speak with the STAND and SADD members, about why they use or choose not to use alcohol. The student responses ranged from feeling like underage drinking is tolerated in the community to those who are expected to drink to fit in with the crowd. Those who chose not to drink often cited their parents and the trouble they could get into as reasons why they do not use alcohol. Lohr added to avoid teen drinking, parents should make it clear to their children they disapprove of it, as well as letting them know ways to avoid peer pressure.

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