My cousin and I encountered teen drinking as freshmen while visiting another cousin at college. Soon after we arrived at her dorm room she said she wanted to introduce us to her “best friend.” She quickly shut the door, reached behind a chair and pulled out a fifth of Bacardi. She poured us each a glass, handed us chasers and said, “Bottoms up, ladies.”
I stared at that glass all night, never so much as lifting it off the table. I watched her and my cousin down glass after glass. Thoughts of how my grandmother was almost killed by a drunk driver raced through my mind. My cousins eventually became so plastered they didn’t notice when I poured my glass down the sink, along with any good memories of that trip.
My cousins threw up several times that night, and they both woke up with pounding headaches. For the longest time I had placed my older cousin on such a high pedestal. She was everything I wanted to be and more: a pretty honors student and a cheerleader. To me, she was perfect. Suddenly I saw her in a different light, and I found it funny how the person she once was and the person who sat in front of me didn’t act anything alike.
The next day I came to some harsh realizations: Nobody looks cool with his or her head in the toilet. No one sounds smart blubbering drunkenly. I find it hard to believe that it is a good feeling waking up and not knowing the person next to you. Maybe I am “uncool,” but I like knowing what I did and not having to rely on others to inform me, or to make excuses for my behavior.
A member of the football team at my school told me that the team “shares the responsibility of providing the alcohol after each game.” Doesn’t responsibility imply duty? It is a duty to provide alcohol to minors? He also claimed that “the beer always tastes better after we win.” This particular athlete admitted drinking quite a bit. So, basically, the 8,000 people who come to every game to cheer our guys to victory are cheering them straight to a keg. Yet nobody seems to care. Deep down we all know what they are doing, but we look the other way just so we can become conference champions.
Two years ago, four cheerleaders were placed on suspension for an incident involving alcohol but allowed to continue the following season. Punishment was there, but not used effectively. That same year a student was caught drunk at a school play and barely received a slap on the wrist. Why is everyone saying it is okay to behave like this?
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, 80% of high-school seniors have used alcohol. Eighty percent! A study by MADD reports that more college students will die from alcohol-related incidents than will receive a master’s or doctorate degree. When the math is done, 80% means about 4.7 million people. That seems a little outrageous!
By closing our eyes to what teens are doing, we are saying it is okay. How long will we keep our eyes closed? How many more people need to die before someone realizes that this needs to be addressed, and stopped? The clock is ticking, so open your eyes, America, before it is too late.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.