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Officials: “Binge Drinking is the Norm for Youth”

By Daniel Cherry | Published 27 Mar 2012 04:33pm | comments

On average, youth in Mississippi who drink, start when they're in the 6th grade. MPB's Daniel Cherry reports how health and alcohol control officials are trying to get what they call an epidemic under control.

Underage drinking costs Mississippi hundreds of millions of dollars each year or about two thousand dollars per youth according to the state Department of Mental Health. Seventeen year old Victoria Mathias is a youth representative for DREAM, a teen health advocacy group. She says her peers need to wait to drink.

"I don't see the point, I mean, I know I'll have my time. There's an age limit for a reason. When I'm 21 I'll have my decision to drink or not. That will be my time. Not when I'm in a developing stage of my life."

Studies show underage drinking can have serious impacts on youth health. Someone who begins drinking before age 15 is five times as likely to develop alcohol dependence and abuse problems than a person who waits until 21. Karen West is with the Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Services with the Department of Mental Health. She says that's why officials are working to raise awareness among youth and adults.

"As a parent did you know that the brain stopped developing at 25? Do you know exactly where liquor is kept in your home, where prescription drugs are kept in your home? Do you know what's going on?"

Advocates are calling on the legislature for help. Caroline Newkirk with DREAM says bills facing the Senate would make consumption of alcohol by minors illegal, and would make it easier for law enforcement to prosecute adults who rent hotel rooms for minors to throw parties.

"They'll rent a hotel room for their kids. They're not there. They know what's going on, and they need to be held accountable for that just as much as if they're hosting a party in their backyard."

A survey shows nearly 20 percent of Mississippi high schoolers reported binge drinking last year.

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