At a party last fall attended by mostly freshman, 11 East students received a Minor in Possession (MIP) charge. The party was taking place in the garage, when, about an hour in, the police arrived on the scene. Freshman Michelle Johnson* was one of the girls who ended up with an MIP charge.
“I was really scared,” Johnson said. “No one knew it was going to happen. Some ran and some didn’t. There were 40 kids at the beginning of the night and about 20 by the end of it.”
After the cops searched through the garage and found the alcohol, they proceeded to put everyone in a line and conduct a series of Breathalyzer tests. Johnson’s parents picked her up from the party; the car ride home was silent. She knew when she got home her parents would give what she called a “motivational speech.” They ended up grounding her and putting a tracker on her phone just a short time later. She says she regrets her actions that night.
“The whole entire thing caused a lot of stress on my parents,” Johnson said. “It’s a long process, going through the MIP program plus the fines for diversion and all of that.”
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the average age for a boy to start drinking is now 11 and it is 13 for girls. In 1965, the age for both boys and girls was 17.5, and in 2003 was 14. Principal Karl Krawitz thinks that students are being exposed to alcohol earlier and that is why kids are beginning to drink at that age.
“I know that the overall age of when kids start drinking has been getting lower and lower each year, and that has been a trend probably for the last 12-15 years,” Dr. Krawitz said. “Either they’re gaining access from older brothers or sisters or they’re invading the alcohol cabinets of their homes or their friends’ homes.”
Based on two surveys that were sponsored by the American Medical Association, two-thirds of underage drinkers said it was easy to get alcohol from an adult at home without their parents finding out. According to Dr. Krawitz, East shouldn’t be singled out among other high schools for its drinking related issues.
“In this country I don’t know if we deal with drinking any more or less than anyone else,” Dr. Krawitz said. “I think that what is more prominent here is the fact that the kids aren’t as secretive. It seems to be an accepted social norm at this building and even among our parents in our community.”
Freshman Erin Wilkins says she hears about students drinking on a day-to-day basis.
“On Monday when we come back from the weekend, there’s always some story about some kid that got really drunk and did something stupid,” Wilkins said.
She says she feels like the age has been getting younger and that her brother who is now a senior never talked about students drinking to her until sophomore or junior year. Freshman Molly Hiett agrees that students at East are into drinking more than she expected.
“I think drinking is in every grade at East but in the freshmen a lot more than I thought it would be,” Hiett said. “Our grade is just kind of crazy, and people don’t realize how it’s going to affect them in the long run.”
According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, almost 80 percent of high school students have tried alcohol. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), reports that when younger kids drink it’s shown that they tend to intake at a heavier rate consuming 4-5 drinks at a time. Student Resource Officer Joel Porter doesn’t condone drinking in high school.
“In so many ways, drinking in high school is a bad idea,” Porter said. “Obviously there is the school side: if you have enough offenses they can expel you. From the police side of it, people that host parties can get arrested for hosting or endangering the life of a minor. You are looking at charges, fines and possible jail time.”
Porter also doesn’t think kids are consuming alcohol at an earlier age. He says that kids have been drinking for a long time and that the age that they start trying things out is most likely the same as it has been.
“I’ve arrested a lot of kids for DUIs, MIPs and a number of things,” Porter said. “Most of the time it ends up being a complaint; a party is too loud or kids are drinking and running around.”
Senior Max Smith* also disagrees that kids are starting to drink younger.
“I don’t think that it seems that kids are getting into drinking that much younger,” Smith said. “I mean you hear stories, but I feel like it has always been that same certain age that kids start to drink.”
The NIAAA reports that kids are more apt to drink because they’re in a transition phase between adolescence and adulthood.
“It’s probably because of their older sibling influences,” Hiett said. “When they see what is going on they think it will be fun and that it doesn’t matter.”
One of the NIAAA’s recent studies have shown that increased drinking in teens can lead to brain damage and impairment of other brain functions.
“Kids are still developing,” Porter said. “It’s a major reason why laws are in place the way they are along with age restrictions because minds and bodies are still developing when you’re young.”
Dr. Krawitz believes drinking in high school has been a continuous trend for years and that it will continue to be a problem in the future.
“Sometimes fads come and go,” Dr. Krawitz said. “I don’t think this is necessarily going to go away. I suspect if anything it will probably get worse and then to what extent will things change? I really don’t know. It’s going to be a tough call.”
* names changed to protect identity