TRUCKEE, Calif. — The first step in addressing the community’s youth alcohol problem begins with parents talking with children about the proper drinking age and modeling responsible use, according to the Truckee Police Department.
“Alcohol use among our teens has become part of our culture here in Truckee, and we have to do what we can to change this culture,” said Ryan Moreau, the department’s school resource officer.
Ten percent of 233 seventh-graders polled across the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District in the 2012 California Healthy Kids Survey said they had used alcohol within the last 30 days, 3 percent less than the state average.
However, 36 percent of 198 ninth-graders answered the same (12 percent higher than the state average), as did 52 percent of 155 students in 11th grade (19 percent higher than the state).
Moreau said he asked local teens where they get alcohol. Their response: from older family members or friends; from friends who work at stores where alcohol is sold; by using old IDs from a family member or friend who is of age; or from mom and dad.
“When they say mom and dad, they don’t mean stealing it out of their liquor cabinet,” Moreau said. “They mean mom and dad going to the store, buying the alcohol for them and giving it to them.”
In speaking with Truckee youth, it’s estimated at least 20 percent of resident-held parties are done with the knowledge and permission of the parents, he said.
Further, at least 40 percent to 50 percent of parents know their child is attending a party where alcohol is being served/consumed.
“For the parents, they tell me, ‘Well, we did it when we were in high school, and we made it out OK,’” Moreau said. “Rationalizing the issues doesn’t change the reality.”
Consequences of drinking include fines, suspension of one’s driver’s license, jail/prison time and vehicle accidents, Moreau said — a truth for all ages.
Yet, at a recent overnight retreat, high school students were “quick to rationalize” their alcohol use, Moreau said, saying phrases such as, “We spend the night so no one drives,” “We follow them home,” and “The party is at a friend’s house and is supervised by an adult.”
While parents who host parties sometimes take away teens’ car keys to protect their safety, Moreau said that doesn’t solve the problem.
“What about the child who has a key you don’t know about?” Moreau posed. “Or what if they decide they’re going to leave your house at 2 a.m. and walk down the road?”
Even if a teen doesn’t see the consequences of underage drinking, it doesn’t mean he or she won’t later in life, said River Coyote, director for Tahoe-Truckee Future Without Drug Dependence.
“(Between ages 12 and 20) is such a sensitive time for the brain,” she said. “If you put drugs or alcohol in that system, and flood the brain with dopamine and different neurotransmitters, you’re priming that brain for addictions. You’re connecting pleasure and drugs and alcohol very strongly in the brain.”
For youth who first use alcohol before 15, she said 17 percent go on to be adults with alcohol dependence, based on the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. For those who wait until age 21 to have a full serving of alcohol, only 2.2 percent become dependent.
Waiting until the legal age also can reduce the use and misuse of cigarettes, marijuana, illegal drugs and prescription drugs, she said.
THE BIGGER PICTURE
Alcohol use and abuse in Truckee isn’t limited to just youth.
Twenty-one percent of the 502 arrests made in 2012 by Truckee Police were for driving under the influence; 98 of the 106 drivers were over the age of 21. Additionally, 85 arrests (17 percent) were for public intoxication last year.
Tahoe Forest Hospital reported that 206 patients were treated for alcohol abuse, dependence or its toxic effects in 2012, Moreau said.
He further pointed out that Truckee hosts many fundraisers and events where alcohol is present.
“Alcohol here, in this town, is part of our culture, and we need to remember that our youth are constantly watching what we are doing,” Moreau said. “We are role models to them.”
According to the Healthy Kids Survey, 57 percent of TTUSD high school students reported not drinking alcohol in the past 30 days. The No. 1 reason was because they didn’t want to disappoint their parents or lose their trust, according to the survey.
“Please talk to your children … and tell them it’s not OK to drink,” Moreau said. “There’s an appropriate age for that, and you shouldn’t be doing this right now.”
Moreau’s message ties into TTFWDD’s suggestions to help prevent underage drinking: Parents should express their expectations, reduce access to alcohol and spend time with their teen(s).
This information was presented at Thursday’s Truckee-Donner Recreation & Park District board of directors’ meeting before a crowd of about 30 parents and residents, along with two town council members.
“Alcohol use among our teens has become part of our culture here in Truckee.”
Truckee Police school resource officer