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Monday, July 15, 2024


Underage Drinking a County and State Problem


By Jack Fichter

WILDWOOD — Preventing teen drinking is all about good communication between parents and children.
Kim Mounce, director of community intervention for Cape Assist, a substance abuse prevention organization, said parents need to be interested in the same things as their teens such as listening to the same music or looking at Web sites their children frequent. Often the best way to talk to teens about drinking is when the opportunity presents itself, perhaps when watching TV or engaged in another family activity, she said.
Common ground with a teen can prevent the perception that the parent is old and out of touch, said Mounce.
Cape May County is known for a fairly high percentage of the population dealing with alcoholism. The county has numerous Alcoholics Anonymous chapters but has only one Alateen chapter with a need for more, said Mounce.
The media does a good job of making alcohol seem inviting to teens. Television and magazines have plenty of ads for beer and sweet tasting mixes that may be palatable to younger drinkers, said Mounce.
A Cornell University study showed alcohol was consumed 555 times in the 224 hours of prime time television, about twice a program and 2.5 times an hour.
Mounce said alcohol is the number one drug of choice of teens both locally and nationally.
According to the New Jersey Prevention Network, the average age of first use of alcohol is now 11 years old and the research further indicates that young people in New Jersey appear to be experimenting with alcohol at a rate above that reported nationally. Approximately 407,000 underage youth in the state drink each year.
Teens have access to alcohol by what may be available in the refrigerator at home or supplied by older friends or brothers or sisters, she said. While peer pressure to drink may be strong, Mounce said there are plenty of teens that choose not to drink.
She said the ambition of many teens here is to leave this county, often for the nearest big city. She said teens discover the people they want to emulate from Philadelphia or New York City spend part of their summers here often enjoying this county’s many bars.
Signs of teen drinking include changes in friends, school performance or sleeping habits, breaking curfew, staying in their room, becoming verbally or physically abusive toward others, mood swings, dropping out of regular activities, change in physical appearance and depression or anxiety.
According to a report in the Journal of Substance Abuse, more than 40% of individuals who start drinking before the age of 13 will develop alcohol abuse problems later in life.
Mounce said teens need to realize their brains are still developing until they are in their mid 20s and alcohol abuse could have long term consequences.
According to the Web site: car crashes are the leading cause of death among people ages 15 to 20. About 1,900 people under age 21 die every year from car crashes involving underage drinking. It notes young people are more susceptible to alcohol-induced impairment of their driving skills. Drinking drivers aged 16 to 20 are twice as likely to be involved in a fatal crash as drinking drivers who are 21 or older.
Cape Assist is dedicated to preventing substance abuse and related issues in Cape May County through education, advocacy and community collaboration. The organization can be contacted at (609) 522-5960. Cape Assist also has a Facebook page.
Mounce was scheduled to present a program on underage drinking at Lower Cape May Regional High School Media Center, Thursday Jan. 14 at 7 p.m.

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