Thursday, July 19, 2007

Teenagers and Alcohol

A deadly combination too many times.

In the small state that I live in, two families affected once again. A 17 year old boy is dead, another 17 year old boy charged with reckless boating and refusing to submit to a chemical test. I know the family of one of those boys, in Rhode Island that's not so surprising, so it hits a bit closer to home than other times, but it's always a tragedy. In the town that I live in, over the past 10 years, at least 8 teenagers have been killed in drunk driving crashes. One young girl, on the way to the mall with her friend and her friends mother were hit by an adult drunk driver, on a highway, rear ends their car which forces it up a hill dividing the lanes into the oncoming traffic. The mother and the daughter's friend dead. On their way to the mall! If that doesn't make you angry, then nothing will.

I'm always amazed, too, when I read the newspaper police log as to how many people are pulled over while driving under the influence. Many of those drivers are not even the legal drinking age so I can only imagine where there future is headed. What seems like fun when you're a teenager, mixed with alcohol, can end up deadly.

Teenagers don't think anything bad can happen to them. I know I never did. They also don't know that the main reason the drinking age was returned to age 21 was because studies showed that between the ages of 14 and 21 a child's brain is forming in many different ways. The maturation process can and will be stopped if too much alcohol is ingested during this time. We all know someone in their 30s, 40s or 50s who still acts like they are 18. They hang around, don't work, party with their friends. It can all be traced back to their behavior as a teenager. I am in no way giving them an excuse.

This makes me reflect back on my own adolescence. I drank and drove as a teenager. The last time I drove under the influence, I was 20 years old (which is over 30 years ago). The last time I had a major hangover I was 20 years old. I knew, as I approached 25, that if I kept the lifestyle that I had, I wouldn't make it to 30. So I quit - everything. I left that lifestyle, those friends and I moved to another house, virtually in the middle of the night. I didn't have a drink again until I was 33. You could probably count on both hands the amount of drinks I've had since.

Thanks to good luck, we made it through the 70s. I think that as the population has increased, traffic has increased and teenagers freedoms have increased. It's not unusual for teenagers to have sleepovers several times a week, even during the school week. I think in the 4 years of high school I had 3 sleepovers. 9th grade: Stacy Gregory (who died along with her sister when they were hit by a drunk driver in the 1980s). 10th grade: Beverly Sardelli. 12th grade - well, it wasn't really a sleepover. Faith told her parents she was sleeping at my house. I told my parents I was sleeping at Jan's house and Jan told her parents she was sleeping at Faith's house. We got in Jan's car - a green Ford - if I remember correctly and drove all night. Well, I drove all night as Jan and Faith slept in the backseat. In the morning, way too early to go home, I fell asleep in my car parked at the ice rink. I was awakened by a Warwick cop knocking on the window asking what I was doing and was I alright. I told him I fell asleep while waiting for my friends. I guess he had a little bit of trouble believing me because there were Tequila Sunrise labels stuck all over the back windows of my car. As we drank and the bottle labels became loose, we'd take them off and slap them on the windows, where they would stay until the next rain. We were very lucky.

While I was driving around that night, in 1974, there was hardly anyone on the road. It was hard to find a place to park because we would have stuck out like a sore thumb. Nowadays, however, the highways are as busy at 3 am as they are at 3 pm. Stores are open 24 hours so finding a place to park a car and hang out is easy.

So my niece, Veronica, the second love of my life right behind her older sister, is 17. As is typical of teenagers she's been involved in some risky behavior. I gave her my old Volvo to drive and I'm hoping that the safety of that car will protect her should she need it. But she drives around in the same town I live in, where at least 8 teenagers have been killed in the past 10 years in alcohol related crashes and it scares me almost to death.

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