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Secret life
Where they drink, when they drink, and how they conceal it -- teens talk to us about their world of alcohol

For many local teens, to drink or not to drink isn't the question.

When and where is.

Often and any place seems to be the answer.

They drink in vacant lots. They drink in homes. They drink in school. Night or day, it doesn't matter.

Older friends and siblings get the booze for them. So do strangers. Parents, too. A fake identification -- easily obtained here, they say -- will allow them to get it for themselves. So will unethical store clerks.

Twenty-three students from Kendrick, Spencer, Carver, Shaw and Hardaway high schools in Columbus and Central in Phenix City met at the Columbus Library recently to discuss teens and alcohol.

They will not be identified.

Who drinks

"It's not a stereotype anymore," said one student. "It's no one clique. It's, like, everybody."

Many agreed.

But another said that athletes are the worst offenders and at his school they'll "try to pressure the others into drinking."

It's the way to fit in when students can't in other ways, several remark.

Some will end up drinking alcohol or taking drugs against their will. "One time at a party," said a student, "people were drinking punch and didn't know someone had spiked it with liquid Ecstasy."

What they drink

Three drinks seem to be the most popular with teens.

Beer tops the list, and Budweiser seems to be the brand most prefer.

Close behind is Smirnoff Ice, a beer alternative with a malt base. It has a sweet, fruity taste and carries a big kick. It was agreed that this is the drink that most of the girls prefer.

The third beverage of choice is vodka. It mixes well with other drinks and there's not much odor on the breath.

"It's really not so much a specific flavor as why teens drink," a student said. "It's just because it's alcohol. It's just fun."

When they drink

"There's usually a lot of drinking after a big ball game," said one student, "especially the players and cheerleaders."

Other big events such as proms and graduation were also mentioned.

But students don't need a special occasion to imbibe.

"Usually it's when there's a group," said one student. "It's rare that there's much drinking when you're on a one-on-one date."

Others nodded in agreement.

And they also agreed that groups of girls drink every bit as much as groups of boys, if not more.

"That's for sure," said one girl.

The weekends used to be for drinking but the teens said it now happens every night of the week, with hungover students bragging about their exploits the next day.

"There are some who even drink in school," said one student. "They put whiskey in a water bottle. Nobody knows."

Where they drink

Many find a vacant lot to do their drinking. A Ledger-Enquirer reporter encountered 150 cars -- driven by and carrying mostly teens -- at Britt David Park on a recent Friday night. Many were drinking alcohol.

Teens in Harris County have been known to drink at night in fields and woods.

Others do their drinking under the lights. "Students go to Sonic and put alcohol into the Slushees they buy," said one student. "Others get a cup of ice there and pour beer into it."

There are also house parties when parents are away. Parents are in denial, they say, and are sure children don't drink.

"Liquor cabinets aren't as guarded as they used to be," said a student.

"Keg parties are popular," said another. "You pay $5 or $10 and they'll give you a cup and then you can drink all you want."

Two students from south Columbus shook their heads when the north Columbus students talked about house parties. "For African-Americans, your mama or grandmama teach you to respect the house," one of them said. "When they go, you don't dare do nothing to the house. Y'all got it more lenient."

When parents provide alcohol

Sometimes teens don't have to hide, because parents are there when they drink. More so in north Columbus, they said.

"Big events like the prom and graduation," said one student. "Parents will provide the alcohol and then just take the keys away. You just stay overnight."

"Those parents think, 'I'd rather them get drunk at home than somewhere else,' " said one student.

Another feels that those parents are thinking "if I throw a party my kid will talk to me."

"Usually," one said, "it's a small group with whom the family is familiar."

"I think it's strange," said a student from Alabama. "It's like pedophilia, these adults wanting to interact like that with kids."

Be it a big house party or a party with parents, it's more likely to happen on the north side of town, said the students. As one south Columbus student said, "nobody where I come from can afford those parties."

Agreeing, another said, "It's all financing. You don't have fancy parties with lots of alcohol at Oakland Park or Baker Village."

"Rich kids," said one. "They're the ones who throw the parties."

Why they drink

Most of the kids said that drinking is fun and exciting because it's something they shouldn't be doing. Others said it gives an excuse.

"If you do something you know you'll feel sorry for later or that is embarrassing then you can always say that you were drunk and didn't know what you were doing," said one student.

Some students from the south end of town said teens drink because "they are depressed."

"It's human nature," he said. " 'Something's got to please me today.' Lots of folks have lost their jobs. Nobody cares about the south side. People feel bad and they drink and drive a car and have an accident and kill themselves or someone else."

What happens

Of the 23 students interviewed, 19 said they know someone who had sex because of alcohol and then regretted it.

Fifteen said they know someone who has been a victim of violence.

Eleven know someone who has received a DUI.

"Sometimes, people will get in an argument about some little thing and it turns into a big fight," said one student. "They lose control."

What rivals drinking

Students said that at many parties there is marijuana as well as alcohol.

"Some students use them together," said one student, with others agreeing.

One student from south Columbus said that drugs -- not alcohol -- are the trouble in his area. "We have a weed problem," the student said.

Another explained how economics play a role.

"On the south side, you've got a nickel sack, a dime sack, a quarter sack," he said. "You can get a good bag for $20 -- and $20 of weed goes a lot longer than a case of beer. Weed takes you away from the pain. You can smoke one reefer and stay high all day."

How they buy it

"You know which stores ask for identification and which ones don't," said one student. "There are places you just go in and buy. Well, if you're 12 years old maybe it's a different story."

But that doesn't mean that if you're 12 you're not getting your supply.

"On my block where I stay," said a student, "kids will be outside the gas station waiting to give someone money to buy for them. You'll have kids as young as 10."

He said they'll give as much as $10, maybe more to get some beer.

One student said she works at a supermarket that claims not to tolerate alcohol purchases by minors -- but "clerks sell it all the time," she said.

"The key," said a student, "is having a connection to an older person, a friend, a brother or sister." Three said their parents had bought it for them.

All agreed that fake identification is easy to get.

Students also mentioned going to college fraternity parties for a good time.

What games they play

Drinking games, the teens said, are popular. What are some they play?

One is called Quarters. In this game, you bounce a quarter on the table and if it goes into a cup of beer, you can choose someone to drink it.

In a game called Nickels, you put your knuckles down on the table and your opponent slides a nickel into them. You do the same to your opponent and the first person to say "ouch" drinks.

"I remember two guys playing Pass and Run at a football game," said one student. "The two guys would take turns predicting whether the next play would be a pass or a run. If wrong, you drank. They both got so drunk that they ended up fighting over whether a play was a run or a pass."

What education they get

Almost a third of the group said their parents had never discussed alcohol with them. As for education in school, most said it was not very effective. Most have ridden with a driver who had been drinking.

One student talked about a friend who was on a track team and a passenger in a car with a drunken driver. There was an accident. The athlete was paralyzed and never competed again.

"Did the driver quit drinking?" the student was asked. "I guess so," the student replied. "He's in jail."

Did that keep other students who knew the two to quit drinking?


Lily Gordon, Andrea Hernandez, Dimon Kendrick-Holmes, Sonya Sorich and Chuck Williams contributed to this report.

Contact Larry Gierer at 706-571-8581 or 




The Green-Eyed Monster Rears Its Ugly Head

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) An understudy in a high school play has received two years probation for spiking the drink of a classmate who won the lead role.

Hours before opening night of L.D. Bell High School's production of "Ha!" in February, Katherine Smith, 19, squirted an eyedropper of bleach into a Mountain Dew before giving it to a sophomore billed with the starring role, police said.

The sophomore didn't take a drink because she thought it smelled funny, according to an arrest affidavit. School officials later alerted police.

In a plea agreement reached Thursday, Smith was sentenced on the charge of attempted assault of bodily injury. She was also fined $530, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Smith told school officials she had a lot of family visiting to see her perform. Janet Smith, her mother, told the school she already made a costume for her daughter because she thought she won the lead role.

Smith first told school officials she purchased the drink as a gift for the classmate but didn't put anything in it. She surrendered to police in June after test results confirmed the drink contained bleach.

Attempts to reach Smith's attorney, Sylvia Andrews, by telephone Tuesday were not successful.




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