The Epidemic of Underage Drinking
Commentary by Abigail Moore, June 11, 2016, updated October 7, 2016
Tragedy struck our youth again last weekend at a large graduation party of up to 100 young people in San Antonio. Officers called to the scene stated that there was a brawl with gunfire. While no one was shot, three were hospitalized with stab wounds, one in critical condition. Our children were stabbed, beaten, and pistol-whipped. Thank God none were shot or killed, this time.
But this time is not the first time. It’s not even the first time this spring. House parties and ranch parties in Bexar County regularly result in drunk driving incidents involving underage drinkers. Even when there are no publicly reported injuries from a party, every teen present is in danger of violence, accidental injury, sexual assault, and other serious consequences associated with underage drinking.
As a citizen, I am exhausted from the violence and tragedies in our community. As a substance abuse professional, I am hardly surprised that they keep happening. As a parent, I am terrified.
Adults are responsible for making safe decisions for our own children. The State of Texas allows parents to serve alcohol to their own children, but that privilege does not extend to other people’s children. No other parent has the right to undermine my parental authority. My kid, my call.
When parents provide alcohol and a place for kids to drink, they are not just violating others’ parental authority, they are breaking the law. Worse than that, they are showing teens that it is okay to break the law. And worst of all, those parents are creating a dangerous party situation which can lead to binge drinking, sexual assault, violence, drunk driving, and long-term consequences like addiction, academic failure, and poor mental health.
There is no “safe place” for kids to drink.
There were other costs incurred by this weekend’s large teen party, aside from the physical harm to the stabbed and beaten youth. Officers were dispatched to break up the melee and injured individuals were transported to local hospitals. Two young adults were arrested. As a result of teen parties, our city streets are vandalized by drunken teens, not to mention the drunk drivers who put our lives in danger every night. Each of these actions incurs costs which will be borne by the taxpayers.
At the San Antonio Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (SACADA)’s Minor In Possession (MIP) classes, 75% of students surveyed say that house parties are the place where most of their peers drink. They also report that they have seen violence, property damage, and alcohol poisoning as a result of these parties. In addition, 41% of our high school students report that accessing alcohol through friends and parties is “very easy.”
When kids drink, they binge drink. Studies show that kids don’t drink as often as adults, but when they do, they drink more. According to a 2012 survey funded by the Department of Health State Services, our kids in Bexar County start drinking at an average age of 11 years old, and we’re making it easy for them.
I have a question for those adults in attendance at these parties, and to all responsible citizens of San Antonio: who was the host? Whose house was it? Your right to host parties on your property ends where my community begins. Who allowed this drinking and violence to occur on their property, in our community?
Other cities around the United States have passed social host ordinances to combat the underage drinking problem. A “social host” is an individual who provides alcohol to minors or is responsible for the property where the drinking occurs.
Social host ordinances have been passed in hundreds of cities around the country and have been proven to be effective in reducing the size and frequency of underage drinking parties.
A social host ordinance would be a way to hold parents or property owners accountable for teen drinking parties held on their property. Any adult who hosts a party for minors to drink would be subject to a fine – a civil penalty, not a criminal one – designed to deter people from allowing underage drinking, as well as to recover some of the costs to the taxpayers.
For too long, San Antonio has placed the responsibility for minors drinking on the minors themselves, but alcohol is not a minor problem. Adults purchase most of that alcohol and allow kids to drink it in their homes and on their property. We are the ones responsible for keeping our children safe and not giving them the tools to harm themselves and our community.
For more information or to join an organization that educates others on preventing and reducing alcohol and substance abuse, such as the Circles of San Antonio Community Coalition, please visit SACADA’s website.