EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) – A new study from the University of Michigan found one in five high school seniors reported drinking five or more drinks in the last two weeks. But the study shows it’s not just a matter of kids binge drinking, but the intensity that it’s happening.
SADD stands for Students Against Destructive Decisions or Students Against Drunk Driving. There are several SADD organizations throughout Wisconsin, including Eau Claire and Trempealeau Counties.
Gabe Toft is the president of the SADD organization at Eleva-Strum High School. He said although he doesn’t hear talks of alcohol and parties every day, it still does happen.
“You definitely hear it in the hallways and it’s definitely around,” said Toft. “If you really want to binge drink and you’re not educated at a young age, I feel like you’re more prone to be drinking when you’re older.
Toft said alcohol can be accessible, which is one of the reasons why SADD exists.
“Sometimes they get friends; they can have friends from like in college that are older than 21, their older siblings, steal it from their parent’s cupboard, something like that, anything like that. I don’t know, you can find it all over the place I guess,” said Toft.
Erin Kensmoe is also a SADD member. She’s a senior at Eleva-Strum and she says peer pressure can be a big factor to drinking.
She said as students get older, they may feel more pressured to drink.
“I was probably a freshman when I heard of alcohl use because once you get to the high school level and you’re with older kids, that’s when you start to hear about it more,” said Alex Larson who is also a member of SADD.
In 2011, an Eau Claire County survey called PRIDE found the average age of first use is 13-years-old or 8th grade.
According to the University of Michigan study, one in ten reported extreme binge drinking or having 10 or more drinks in a sitting. Local educators say the numbers are alarming because the level of intoxication for a growing teen can be damaging both mentally and physically.
“It is very concerning because in a school our size that would mean a high percentage of our students probably in our class we have 180 kids so 18 of our kids are binge drinking at a regular basis that a pretty alarming and surprising statistic,” said Josh Skoug who is the advisor for the Eleva-Strum SADD organization.
He said keeping alcohol away may be an even bigger worry, when you live in a rural area.
“In the rural community, there aren't a lot of choices for them so it seems to be that even if they're not partaking in the drinking they're around it a lot more than a kid that goes to a larger school,” said Skoug.
Jennifer Eddy, MD of Eau Claire has an 11-year-old son and she has already started teaching her kid about the dangers of drinking.
“As a parent today it's really nerve racking, there's so many things that we have to worry about that we didn't used to,” said Eddy. “I think it’s important to talk to kids and let them know what you think. As a parent, we often get discouraged it seems like our kids don't listen to us. They roll their eyes or look the other way. But we are the biggest influence on their behavior.”
Eddy is also a part of Reality Check 21, a group of volunteers with a goal of reducing youth alcohol use.
“I think in the past we used to feel like well as long as you take away the car keys, it’s okay to have kids drink in the house and now we're realizing that’s not a good idea. Basically the earlier the kids drink the more likely they are to run into problems later,” said Eddy.
Youth Advocacy Advisor for Eau Claire City-County Health Dept. Deb Tackmann said about half of the teens she has talked to say they believe alcohol is not that harmful.
“The affects that alcohol has on a young person's brain is so different than that of an adults brain,” said Tackmann. “What concerns me about the numbers is the more that this person drinks, the higher the blood alcohol content and then there’s a whole plethora of things that happen as it relates to engaging in risky behaviors and bone growth and human growth and development issues. It frightens me.”
Tackmann said whether you're drinking a 12 oz. glass of beer, a standard glass of wine or a 1.5 oz. shot of hard liquor, the alcohol content is the same, although the absorption is faster with hard liquor. So don't think it's safer to drink some beer versus a shot of whiskey.
“Alcohol impairs the brain and the adolescent’s brain is still growing and so you add this chemical to the brain that’s still growing and you have very unhealthy and unsafe result,” said Tackmann.
The PRIDE survey also found 26.8 percent of youth in the county reports having five or more glasses of alcohol within a few hours.
“I think one of the big factors is availability because we as adults would make the alcohol less available, then there would be less use and less use would mean less binge drinking. So lock up your liquor put it in an area where teens can't access it,” said Tackmann.
According to the University of Michigan study, 28 percent of high school seniors say they've driven after drinking or doing drugs or have been a passenger with an impaired driver.
“I've been teaching for over 30 years and I’ve been to the funeral of 16 of my students and all but one was alcohol related. So it’s a very personal thing for me as well,” said Tackmann.
And it's personal for the students back at Eleva-Strum who want to make sure their friends make smart decisions.
“I think we're making a difference,” said Larson. “We make the videos about the consequences of drunk driving can be very serious and I think it really gets in people’s heads and they really don’t want to drink and drive or drink in general because it’s going to be a bad choice.”
Skoug said the students hold alternative events at the school for after prom, homecoming, Halloween, etc.
“We’ll host open gyms here, gaming tournaments things of that nature at the school, things that the kids in the rural community can partake in without having to go to Eau Claire,” said Skoug.
“We do presentations. Like last year we had a couple instances where drunk driving and stuff happened around our school so we put together presentations and we put them out for everyone to see what the consequences are for drinking and drunk driving and really making those decisions and it’s not worth it,” said Toft.
Tackmann said parents need to communicate with their kids about the boundaries, set guidelines and agree on those rules.
“I don’t think any parent out there wouldn't want their kid to be safe and healthy,” said Tackmann.
She said consider educating yourself online or by joining groups like Reality Check 21 or SADD.
You can also get what's called a "contract for life" where both you and your child can sign a contract, saying you're both committed to healthy decisions.