To drink or not to drink


It’s finally here.

You thought Friday night would never come, but here you are, in your friend’s basement. Glass bottles clink together, and red cups litter the floor.  Your friend hands you a glass.  The smell of the drink makes you shudder. Something tells you you shouldn’t drink it, but the looks on your friends’ faces disagree.  You sigh, not wanting to disappoint them.

After all, one drink won’t hurt … right?

From a Friday night party to hanging out with friends at the park, students are around alcohol. According to a survey from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 74.3 percent of high school students have tried alcohol. Based on the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, there are roughly 10.8 million underage drinkers in the United States.

Influences from friends play a key role when it comes to teen drinking.“I think most kids drink because of peer pressure and because their friends are doing it,” J. Tom Morgan, former DeKalb County District Attorney said. “Teenagers are known for social interactions, and when they see other kids drinking, they want to join.”

Junior Collin* feels that his friends play a big part in his involvement with alcohol. “I never drink alone,” he said. “When other people want to drink, I’m always happy to join them.”

The influence of his friends paired with alcohol sometimes make it harder for him to make his own decisions. “If a friend does something crazy [when they’re drunk], I feel like ‘Oh, I can do this, too.’”

Like Collin, sophomore Melissa* finds the loss of control from drinking attractive. She feels alcohol is a way to get away from her personal issues. “[Drinking] helps with my parents’ divorce,” she said. “When they fight, it seems like you can’t get away from it. [When I drink], I feel like all of my problems go away, and I’m not focused on any of them.”

Collin also uses drinking to forget a specific problem in his life. “After a big fight with my parents or after I bomb an essay,” Collin said, “I think, ‘I could use a beer.’”

Despite the large number of teens who drink, freshman Helen* and junior Kate* refuse to be involved with it. “I just don’t drink. One, it’s illegal,” Helen said. “Two, I don’t think you need alcohol to have a good time. Three, I have a good relationship with my parents, and I don’t want to screw that up.”

For Kate, the law and parents aren’t the only reasons that drinking isn’t a good idea. “I guess one of the reasons I don’t [drink] is because I’ve seen how people react with alcohol at our school, and I just don’t want to do what they do.” Kate is one of the only ones in her group of friends who doesn’t drink. “When everyone that you’ve hung out with is jumping on the bandwagon, I’m just like, ‘Awesome, great, what do I do now,’” she said.

Religion deters some students from drinking.  Junior Stan* feels like drinking and partying goes against his religion and beliefs. Stan has only tried it once. “The first and only party I’ve been to was over the summer,” he said. “At the party, there was beer pong. I had a couple drinks before playing beer pong and a couple shots after that.”

The next day, Stan didn’t feel like he’d done the right thing. “After I woke up the next morning, I felt horrible. I asked myself, ‘What was the reason I did that other than just being bored?’”

After that night, Stan decided that he wouldn’t let anything else get in the way of what he believed in. “Before anything, I’m going to follow my beliefs over what others think,” he said. He says that his friends can be an influence on him sometimes. “I think that they’re doing stupid things that could affect their lives, but at the same time, I feel left out because they seem like they’re having a good time.”

Another dynamic of high school drinking that goes unnoticed a lot is race. “White students report the highest levels of drinking, blacks report the lowest,” a survey conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse said.

At Decatur, a black sophomore, Peter,* experiences this racial divide when it comes to drinking. “If you are at a party with black people, there [will be] more drugs there than alcohol,” he said. “But, if you’re at a party with white people, there’s bound to be more alcohol there than drugs.”

Why does this difference go unspoken in many groups? It comes down to the issue of ease of access. “For white people, alcohol is easier for you to get your hands on, but for black people, weed is a lot easier to get your hands on,” Peter said.

At first, Jane* didn’t agree with the idea of being uninvolved with alcohol, but over the past couple of months, experiences led her to believe that alcohol isn’t everything. “On New Year’s Eve, my friends and I had a party,” she said. “A lot of things happened that we can’t take back, and that’s why most of us decided to stop.” Not all of her friends are quite as supportive about her decision. “Some of my friends don’t understand [why I chose to stop drinking],” Jane said.

Melissa agrees that it’s probably time to stop being involved with alcohol. “I’m actually thinking of quitting. I haven’t done it in about two months,” she said. “I don’t need it. There are other things beyond drinking; I can achieve more without it.”

For other kids, giving up drinking doesn’t come as easily. “It’s really hard [to not have alcohol],” Collin said. If he did give it up, his life would be different. “[My friends] would have a lot more money. More parents would like me,” he said.

So what do parents think about their kids drinking? “My parents don’t approve of me drinking. Some parents don’t care as much, and they let their kids drink, whereas I have to deal with getting grounded,” Collin said.

Other adults, including J. Tom Morgan, think that the drinking age in the United States should be lowered. “The United states is the only country in the world whose drinking age is 21. I think we should change the law to Canada’s age, 19,” Morgan said. “If kids are old enough to go to war, get a job and use tobacco, you should be old enough to have a beer.”

The way Collin sees it, alcohol plays a big part in social life at Decatur. “It’s weird, because all the activities that we would do sober, we do with drinking. If you’re bad at something or if you’re annoying, you can always say ‘I was drunk’. You just feel safe. You feel like you can do and say whatever you want,” he said.

While many people disapprove of teenage drinking, Collin says that he and his friends use it to bond. “I think drinking has brought my friends closer together. I mean, if you hang out with friends at school, they’re kind of your friends, but when you drink with them, you see the real side of them, since they have no boundaries.”

*Sources requested anonymity.