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Despite law, teen drinking a big problem

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "Well, one glass [of champagne] per guest. And no one who drinks drives," Mr. Cooverman tells his underage son in the movie "I Love You, Beth Cooper." Although the line is backed up with a lighthearted joke, underage drinking is not a laughing matter. More than 4,700 young adults die from alcohol-related incidents each year.

Underage drinking is an issue that has plagued the country for decades. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention 2011 High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 70.8 percent of high school students have drunk alcohol, and 11 percent of alcohol consumed each year is by underage drinkers.

These statistics prove that, despite the law, alcohol products are very accessible to younger age groups.

Alcohol products can be purchased by anyone 21 or older. Pocahontas County Sheriff David Jonese explained that many teenagers obtain alcohol from their parents, older siblings and older friends.

He said the laws on the legal drinking age have changed, and many parents remember drinking at 18 years old. Parents do not see a problem with allowing their children to drink at a young age and will even supply alcohol to their children.

Older friends and siblings supplying alcohol is a common practice for many teenagers. They do not want their parents to know they are drinking and will instead reach out to their older contacts to supply them with alcohol. Many of the older friends and family members will oblige, not considering the possibility of their potential arrest for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Teenagers tend to drink alcohol in private. Sheriff Jonese said that many will go to a cabin with a group of friends, for example.

As long as teenagers do not go out in public or drive while intoxicated, law enforcement cannot legally search their houses or arrest them. Jonese said law enforcement knows underage drinking is a problem and occurs often, but enforcement of the law in this case is very difficult.

Teenagers are especially influenced by the media. Movies such as "21 Jump Street" and "Project X" show teenagers who provide or drink alcohol becoming more popular and more promiscuous. These stereotypical movies do not show characters falling critically ill with alcohol poisoning, fainting, being forced into sexual encounters or becoming violent.

Teenagers who drink alcohol risk harming themselves or others, possibly resulting in death. They have a higher risk of taking part in risky sexual behaviors that can lead to STDs and pregnancy. In adulthood, those who began drinking alcohol at any early age have a greater chance of developing an alcohol addiction or certain cancers such as liver and throat cancer.

Underage drinking is a risky practice. Those who supply teenagers with alcohol need to realize the consequences of their actions, ultimately considering the health of their younger siblings, friends and children. Teenagers also should take more initiative to protect their future wellbeing. Only then will underage drinking statistics level out to a lower rate.


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