The issue of drinking may be on a lot of our minds lately. Prom season has wrapped up, high school graduation is coming up, and there is now a proposal by the National Transportation Safety Board to lower the blood alcohol limit for drunk driving from 0.08 to 0.05 per cent.
A lot of people my age drink, and alcohol use has seriously affected the lives of some of my close relatives. Drinking at a young age can have a critical impact on brain development. It impairs judgment and, at worst, can cost lives. Every year, approximately 5,000 people in the United States under the age of 21 die of alcohol-related injuries.
But there are people in this area working hard to address the issue of underage drinking.
A couple years ago, at Orange High School, a program called ADAPT, which stands for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Team, was founded by the Orange Partnership for Alcohol and Drug Free Use, an organization that operates mainly in Hillsborough to reduce the prevalence of alcohol use among teens. Just recently, ADAPT also started a unit at Cedar Ridge High School.
“The purpose of the club is to provide an outlet for students to become advocates for themselves, and to be peer educators to learn about alcohol and drug information, not just by teaching and learning, but by actively engaging in the community,” says Orange Partnership for Alcohol and Drug Free Use program assistant Shriya Soora.
Just recently, ADAPT sponsored a school field trip during which students went to local retailers where alcohol is sold. They spoke with the owners about alcohol policy, advertising and fines as well as legal issues with selling alcohol. Another group of students did an “environmental scan,” grading a store on how much alcohol advertising it had and whether or not the advertising was appealing to teens. They also graded the store on whether there were signs asking customers for identification.
Another project was a “sticker shot” campaign in which students placed stickers that said “Are you 21?” and “Who are you buying this for?” on individual cans and large multi-packs of alcohol.
In addition, ADAPT has a tip line where people can report hazardous behavior related to alcohol.
During prom season, members got 120 students to sign a pledge stating they would be drug- and alcohol-free before, during and after their prom.
Teenagers who don’t drink often feel that they’re in the minority. I asked Shriya if she had any words to encourage nondrinkers not to give in to peer pressure. She said ADAPT had a “Social Norms Project” taking results from a survey of Orange High School students that compared what they thought their peers did and what they actually did. Students thought that only 6 percent of their peers don’t drink during a typical month when in reality, 72 percent of students don’t. As Shriya says, “Students have a skewed perception of what’s actually going on around them. They believe that many more are drinking than not drinking.”
Currently, 30 students at Orange High School and smaller group at Cedar Ridge are participating in ADAPT. When asked about hopes for the future, Shriya said, “Expansion is one thing. Also, for the students not just to be doing education for themselves, but to be very active peer educators.” ADAPT strongly believes it is more effective if students learn safety information about alcohol from people their own age, rather than from parents or teachers giving them lectures about it.
Do these efforts really make a difference? ADAPT has been doing a survey bi-annually. Even though a lot of people under 21 continue to drink, according to surveys taken of students in this area, the number who approve of underage drinking appears to be going down. Hats off to Shriya and ADAPT!
Lucas Selvidge is a rising senior at Carolina Friends School.