Officials paint disturbing picture of underage drinking trends in America

Alcohol companies target youth through magazine, television, radio and other advertising as seen in a statistic during the Curry County Underage Drinking Prevention meeting Tuesday at the Clovis-Carver Library North Annex. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Marlenaa Hartz: CNJ staff writer

The red-haired child, with big, brown eyes, addressed her audience.
“My name is Lisa, and in nine years, I will be an alcoholic. … And I will do some things I don’t want to do. … My parents won’t believe it could happen to me,” she said.

Though just a cast member in a video shown to warn community members about the ills of underage drinking, the little girl puts a face to reams of faceless statistics.

More than 10 percent of 12-year-olds reported using alcohol at least once in a 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. By age 13, that percentage doubled.

Ready to confront the problem, about 30 community members attended the Curry County Underage Drinking Prevention meeting held Tuesday at the Clovis-Carver Public Library North Annex, part of a nationwide campaign to curb underage drinking.

A panel of guests, including Clovis police officers, a magistrate judge and government leaders, also responded to the call for action, fueled by studies that say young drinkers are far more likely to have alcohol problems as adults.

“It is very shocking to think that … fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders already have a (drinking) habit,” said New Mexico Rep. Jose Campos, D-Santa Rosa, during the meeting.

“Alcoholism is growing rapidly,” he said. “We can create more and more laws until we are blue in the face, but until we understand the culture of why we want to continue underage drinking, we are not doing a bit of good.”

Clovis High School senior Chardai Davis, 18, said a large chunk of his peers drink regularly. For underage drinkers, alcohol is easily obtainable in Clovis, said Davis, who came to the meeting “to learn.”

Davis said his mother lectured him on the ills of drinking long ago. Her guidance does, he said, help stave off the pressure to drink illegally, which comes not only from peers, but from the radio, television and print media, he said.

“I was surprised to see how much advertising for alcohol is directed towards teenagers,” Davis said.

Curry County DWI Coordinator Miranda Chavez, who organized the Curry County meeting, showed audience members a collage of alcohol advertisements aimed at youth, including one that featured a cartoon-like mouse.

The typical American sees 100,000 beer commercials before the age of 18, more than a person sees for sneakers, gum and jeans, said Curry County Commissioner Ed Perales.

“Society,” said Curry County Magistrate Judge Richard Hollis, “wants us to believe marijuana is the gateway drug. But for a long time, I have held the belief that before a child smokes a joint, he steals a beer out of his dad’s refrigerator.”

Hollis said 80 percent to 90 percent of all crimes committed in the county are alcohol or drug driven.

Underage drinking, Hollis said, “is a problem for all of us.”