Too easy for teens to obtain alcohol

By Wesley Harris

As a law enforcement officer for 43 years, I saw what alcohol can do to families. Misery, pain, and strife infiltrate homes where alcohol is abused. The children in these families are terribly affected, and usually learn the habit of abusing alcohol themselves. As a community, we immunize ourselves against such unsettling circumstances, ignoring them if they do not involve us. But they do affect us and the quality of life for our own families. All it takes is one drunk behind the wheel of a car to change our lives forever.

April is Alcohol Awareness Month, an opportunity to discourage underage drinking. Teen drinking is considered by many to be a harmless part of growing up. Having investigated fatality accidents, I can attest to the dangers of mixing alcohol and teenagers. As an officer, I never regretted charging a teen with possessing or consuming 

alcohol or for driving under the influence. While it was a sad duty, I knew some of them may have seriously injured or killed themselves or others had I not intervened. One night early in my career, I stopped a friend from high school who was driving drunk. I let his wife drive him home. Hours later, I helped load him in an ambulance after he got behind the wheel again and crashed his truck into a tree. I never let another impaired driver go home.

It only takes one episode of drinking and driving for a teenager to end up trapped among the twisted metal of a crashed car. Of course, teens think it will happen to them. Whether from a sense of invincibility or a calculation of the law of averages, underage drinkers consume alcohol without any thought of negative consequences.

It is easier for a teenager to obtain alcohol than to find a CD in his bedroom. Sometimes an unscrupulous convenience store clerk permits the purchase of  alcohol, but in most cases, the alcohol is obtained from adults who think they are doing teens a favor. In the search for alcohol, teens typically call an older friend or even approach a stranger outside a liquor store to make purchases for them. 

The purchase of alcohol on behalf of someone under the age of 21 is illegal—and dangerous. One of my most memorable cases was the death of a 16-year-old girl who rolled her truck after consuming  beers. While I searched for the man who bought alcohol for her and three other teens, I kept her photograph on my desk as motivation to work to prevent the death of more young people.

Some parents even give alcohol to their teens under the fallacy “it’s better for them to drink here than somewhere else.” Kids drinking anywhere only leads to trouble. The idea that teenage drinking is a harmless rite of passage is a dangerous misconception. Teens who are allowed to drink at home by their parents are more likely to drink outside the home and to use other drugs. Young people who drink alcohol are fifty times more likely to use cocaine. There is a connection between risk-taking and contempt for the law that transcends the prohibition against teenage drinking to involve other risky behavior like drug use, drunk driving and other crimes.

Kids aren’t social drinkers. They drink to get drunk. Drinking can become an adventure, with kids trying to outdo one another to prove their coolness or manhood. Without the judgment and discernment of grown adults, teens often make poor decisions involving the use of alcohol that have tragic consequences.

Kids dying because of drinking and driving is a common occurrence in Louisiana. As a community, we must deal aggressively with this problem. While all of us should do our part, the ultimate responsibility belong to parents.

Parents must protect their children from alcohol and other drugs. Emphasizing that every action has consequences is important in the education of teens who are facing the overwhelming temptations of the world. Sometimes parents must be the “bad guys” and limit unsupervised activities and prohibit situations where teens can get themselves into trouble. 

Adults have no greater responsibility than to care for the physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of their children. This is not a responsibility that can be shrugged off on the schools, the police, or any other whipping boy. Parents must protect their kids and maintaining a barrier between teens and alcohol—by whatever means—is part of that responsibility. Do whatever it takes to keep your children safe.

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