High on booze
Laura Redpath, Senior Reporter
IT'S A popularity thing - a secret need for social acceptance despite the risks. Drinking alcohol is a coming-of-age ritual for many teenagers, who, without the knowledge of parents, indulge in the deadly habit that is difficult to break.
According to 16-year-old Akeiba Chambers, high school students will drink despite the negative effects because having alcohol under 18 is normal for teenagers.
They also know they're breaking the law.
"You're not going to drink where anyone can see you," Darren Priestman, a 17-year-old said.
That was the general view of students from several high schools in Kingston who gathered at the Gleaner's North Street offices last week for a group discussion on the culture of alcohol consumption among their peers.
Teenagers, on popular social networking sites such as hi5, Facebook and Myspace, glamorise underage drinking by posing in photos of drunk nights with their friends, 'double-fisting' (a drink in each hand).
"It's a social experience," Priestman said. "When you go to a party, you're just hanging out, building a vibe.
"(Drinking) is not really experimenting. In a sense, popularity has a lot to do with it."
Priestman's peers agreed.
Drinking alcohol is seen as a coming-of-age ritual, where young teenagers drink and hang out with older students.
"High school causes (drinking among teenagers). When you're in high school, you become an adult and you start doing everything for yourself."
Students in the discussion admitted to underage drinking but argued that they stopped drinking when they became "tipsy" (unsteady) but never got drunk. "They also said they had mixed energy drinks with alcohol, and even tried marijuana.
"I smoked first, then I drank the liquor. It was Monster mixed with Magnum mixed with Red Bull.
"After I smoked and I tasted the liquor, it left a bad taste in my mouth and I had to go and wash it out. I haven't done it since then," a 16-year-old said.
Jovan McCook, 16, said teenagers tend to want to taste a new alcoholic beverage after their friends have tried it and given it their stamp of approval.
Akeiba Chambers agreed and compared tasting alcohol to trying a new sandwich at a popular fast-food joint.
"You want to know how it tastes," she said.
The teenagers said advertisements for the alcoholic drinks influence them, despite the drink-responsibly campaign.
"Your friends are always talking about Boom (an energy drink) and you see it, then you want to taste it," a student said.
All of the students agreed that the social atmosphere was a major trigger for underage drinking.
However, despite their extensive knowledge of the drinking culture among teenagers, no one was sure of what the legal age for drinking was. The students gave responses ranging from 16-22 years. However, upon realising the drinking age was actually 18, they became set in their opinions.
"I think it should remain at 18 because it will affect students' education," Marissa Williams, 16, said.
Chambers agreed with her.
"As a child in school, it will affect your learning and it will push you to act more mature than you are," she said. However, Natasha Francis, 16, said the age limit should be raised to 22.
"We have too many drunk drivers on the road. Some effects of alcohol may result in crime and violence."
'Mom gives me liquor'
Many of the students said their parents were aware of the fact that they drank. One of the students said her parents let her drink once she was in their presence and did not know what they would do if they found out she drank when she wasn't with them.
Another teenager said, "For me, if I'm at a party with my mum and she's drinking something, she will buy me a one liquor."
Not only is drinking at home a familiar practice among the participants, but so is drinking on school property.
One of the participants described a week-long occurrence - drinking at lunchtime.
"We buy the liquor, put it in a black scandal bag, ask someone in the canteen to put it in the refrigerator. They don't check the bag to see alcohol is in there."