Trends in teen drinking discussed

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Mon., Nov. 21, 2011
Rachel Bruno, program coordinator with the Governor's Prevention Partnership, explains some of the latest teen drinking trends at the GLAD Forum on Nov. 16. Photos by Steve Smith.
Rachel Bruno, program coordinator with the Governor's Prevention Partnership, explains some of the latest teen drinking trends at the GLAD Forum on Nov. 16. Photos by Steve Smith.

On Nov. 16, the Glastonbury Alcohol and Drug Council, in conjunction with the town of Glastonbury and the Rushford Center, gave a presentation for parents and community members on the new trends in teen underage drinking and drug use.

GLAD President Sheryl Sprague, who is also manager of prevention services at Rushford, said the aim of the forums is to educate parents and make them aware of what environment their teens are facing.

Rachel Bruno, prevention coordinator from the Governor's Prevention Partnership, was the keynote speaker at the event. She said that her presentation is never the same twice, because the trends and products change so rapidly. Bruno said that while nationally, underage drinking has declined, those numbers are still very high, as are the percentages of young people using drugs.

“We're seeing about 20 percent of high school seniors, nationally, using marijuana in the last 30 days,” she said. “About 20 percent of high school seniors have used tobacco products in the last 30 days. Amphetamine use is about 9 percent, and methamphetamine use is a little over 2 percent. We're seeing an increase in ecstasy use, and we're seeing an increase in inhalant use. We're seeing about 8.8 percent of eighth-graders using inhalants.”

Bruno said that for Connecticut teens, alcohol appears to be the drug of choice, as the numbers are higher than the national average. The average age of onset is 11 years old.

A local survey of Glastonbury teens revealed that almost 60 percent of 11th- and 12th-grade students say it's very easy to obtain alcohol, and 40 percent of 12th-graders say most of their friends drink.

“This discussion is important, because we know the risks of underage drinking, such as drinking and driving, risky sexual behavior and poor brain development,” Bruno said, “but the problem has really changed in nature in the past few years. We're seeing changes in the potency and variety of alcohol products, what's being released, and what should be pulled off the shelves by the FDA.”

Bruno said the “drinking culture” – including advertisements and television shows like “Jersey Shore” – is making underage alcohol consumption acceptable and glamorized. “New, cutting-edge products that are being introduced to the market are really creating this drinking culture,” Bruno said. “It's being done through marketing, and through clothing and accessories and the predatory marketing of bars and clubs.”

Among those products are sweet beverages that are made to resemble soft drinks and energy drinks.

“There are a lot of sweeteners that are being added to mask the taste,” Bruno said. “They are trying to make it easier for kids to drink younger by creating sweet drinks that you can't tell are alcoholic. These sweet drinks are also meant to appeal to a female audience.”

Alcopops – or ready-to-drink beverages that aim for the mixed-drink appeal – are increasing in popularity among teens. Teens are three times more likely to have brand awareness, and twice as likely to have tried the products (Mike's Hard Lemonade and Twisted Teas among them) as other alcoholic products.

“They are super sweet, super fruity,” Bruno said, “and are very easy to go down. That's one of the concerns – that they are so easy to drink.”

Alcoholic energy drinks present problems for teachers, parents and law enforcement because they are packaged to resemble their non-alcoholic counterparts. They also present potentially greater health problems.

“There are so many risks with mixing caffeine and alcohol,” Bruno said. “One of the main ones is that the caffeine energizes you so that you may not recognize your point of intoxication. [Also] the energy drinks are a stimulant and alcohol is a depressant. The stimulant makes your heart rate go up, and the depressant is pulling it down, so what is the strain doing to your heart when you have that push/pull effect?”

A recent trend that Bruno said has been seen in Connecticut is the use of alcohol-infused Gummie Bears. “They're getting creative,” Bruno said. “Unfortunately it's not the best kind of creativity. The sad thing about that is that if you 'YouTube' it, you can get literally hundreds of how-to videos.”

“We don't do these presentations to scare the bejeebers out of you,” Sprague told the parents. “We do it so that you can have conversations with your children.”

Sprague also recommended that if a teen is heading to a party, parents should call the host teen's parents to verify what sort of supervision will be present. She said parents should also be vigilant when other teens are invited to their homes. “Make sure you know who is invited,” she said. “You're responsible. You need to be checking on these kids.”

Emily Dickinson, prevention coordinator with Glastonbury's Department of Youth and Family Services, said GLAD is working on a public service announcement that will help parents start conversations with their teens. “It's what to do if you catch them with alcohol,” she said, “but also how to be pre-emptive.”

Dickinson said the Glastonbury Youth Advisory Council will also present a forum on marijuana use on Dec. 6, at 6 p.m., at the Riverfront Community Center.

On May 9, 2012, GLAD will host a presentation by Ryan Van Cleeve, recovering video game addict and author of “Unplugged.”


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