What is the alcohol culture at Schreiber?

By Aaron Bialer, Dan Bidikov, Aaron Brezel and Hannah Zweig, Staff Assistant, A&E Editor, Assistant Sports Editor, Managing Editor

fellow student shrieks as you walk into the entrance to someone’s house you may have spoken to once. You vaguely remember him sitting next to you in English class—or maybe that was  another person.  You maneuver your way into the kitchen where the table has been repurposed as a beer pong table. It is your first ever, real high school party—and it is nothing like you pictured. There is no sketchy kid standing in the corner trying to convince you to do drugs and there is no kegstand yet to speak of.

Despite the lack of traditional peer pressures you’ve been warned about since the seventh grade, there are still other external pressures to drink that you may not have anticipated.

“There’s a certain expectation of people who stay sober to be more responsible and drive people home,” said senior Ellie Zolatarev.

Kids who have driven to a party are often asked to drive shifts of kids home, which, while better than drunk driving, can become a tiring expectation.

“I really don’t like to drink in certain circumstances but it’s sometimes isolating and annoying to watch your friends get drunk,” said a sophomore who prefers to remain anonymous.

However, many students have found ways to still have fun while avoiding or embracing the negativities of being “the sober friend.”

“It’s definitely easy to have a good time without drinking, you don’t always need to drink to be social. In some ways you’re expected to be the babysitter if you don’t drink and although it’s annoying it’s better to have someone sober and responsible for your friends for the night,” said senior Ali Peltz.

Some students look to older siblings and friends who have maintained an active social life throughout high school without drinking. One anonymous senior describes following in her sister’s footsteps down the road of sobriety.

“Basically I always follow everything my older sister does and all of high school she never drank anything and I thought it was extremely cool that she was able to stay away from alcohol,” said an anonymous senior. “I realized that in high school, no one really peer pressures anyone like I thought they would. I just think my sister was uninterested in the whole idea–she knew it was bad for her and she just stayed away from it. She saw how her friends acted when they had no control over their own bodies and that really turned her away from it.”

Many of these students haven’t felt particularly uncomfortable when surrounded by friends who drink.

“I never feel uncomfortable when my friends are drinking…no one peer pressures or judges you, which is really comforting. I’m really lucky to have friends like mine. I don’t need alcohol to have a good time,” said an anonymous senior.

While many younger students often feel alone in their decision not to drink, the amount of students who have committed to their decision tend to grow as they proceed through Schreiber.

“At some point I realized I really don’t enjoy drinking,” said an anonymous senior.

Further, students make the decision as a tribute to their own self-awareness and intelligence.

“At parties I never see the need to intoxicate myself further because I’m already so euphoric on natural stimulation and I have no need to mitigate my happiness. Furthermore, as someone with an extremely adept and capable mind, I see it as a disservice to society to impair its function,”said senior Miles Kurtz.

 

 

Health education and mainstream media do their best to deter underage drinking. The student body differs in its opinions on how well the school prepares them for social scenarios involving drinking.

Some students believe it is an issue that cannot be combated successfully because its opponents misunderstand the reasons for it.

“Teen drinking will always be rather popular. It isn’t peer pressure that is making kids drink; most drink just because they want to. Health education is useless. Kids might be affected by a lesson for one day, but they will eventually forget about it and drink,” said one anonymous junior.

Much of the health curriculum is spent teaching students who may be planning on drinking no matter what. Many think that despite the fact that there is no better alternative, the school should not get rid of the mandatory health classes.

“No amount of reformation of the health education program will change the effect of it on most students due to the inherently rebellious attitude of teenagers in general, and the school cannot politically cut the program entirely, so the best bet for the near future is to see no significant changes in the health education system at Schreiber,” said junior Zach Herron.

Students also complain that health class does not enable them to handle the inevitable situations that present themselves when teenagers drink.

“I don’t think health class prepares people for their passed out friends or the cops knocking on the door at all. And peer pressure doesn’t come from outside sources, it comes from within,” said junior Noah White.

Other students think that health education shows a breed of teenage drinking that is not realistic or applicable to their lives, and encourages them not to pay attention or take the class seriously. Often, the strategy among educators is to discuss some of the more dangerous and radical new trends that arise in the underage drinking scene (recent examples include teachers covering the phenomenon of eyeballing vodka). Some students question the validity and necessity of these strategies.

“Health class exaggerates the dangers of underage drinking. It uses ‘scared straight’ tactics that feel condescending,” said junior Cal Gross.

There is a side of the student body that supports health education.

Junior Bomin Choi described the courses as “somewhat effective.”

“Schreiber kids can take a look around the student body and conclude that yes, students still drink, and so the health department fails in preventing underage drinking,” said Choi. “However I think that students at the very least are educated in the negative effects of alcohol and so hopefully students take this into account and take responsibility in their own actions.”

 

It is against the law to steal. It is against the law to engage in fraud. It’s against the law to commit homicide. These are some of the basic tenants of the American legal system. However, for as many concrete transgressions we have in our legal system, there are many more legal gray areas where every case presents controversy. Underage drinking falls under this category.

The first major legislative action on underage drinking came in 1984 with the passage of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act (NMDA). While state governments mainly regulate alcohol consumption, this law withheld federal funding for any state that did not raise its drinking age from 18 to 21. With only mild opposition, by 1988, all states complied with the NMDA. Since then each state has taken its own approach to limiting the consumption and distribution to minors.

New York ranks amongst the strictest in penalties for underage drinking, particularly in cases of drunk driving. Under New York’s Zero Tolerance Policy, any driver under the age of twenty-one caught with a Blood Alcohol Content of 0.02 or higher is subject to a minimum $125 fine as well as a six-month license suspension. In addition, the state has founded and supported many organizations, such as MADD and SADD, that fight to turn minors away from alcohol.

The crackdown on underage drinking has had its desired effect. In 2011, the University of Michigan released a study that began in 1980 and detailed the trend in underage drinking among high school seniors. What they found was overwhelmingly positive results to support tight alcohol control. According to the study, the percentage of high school students who said they had consumed alcohol in the past 30 days dropped by 30 percent. Binge drinking in the past two years had dropped by 20 percent. Perhaps the most startling result was the percentage of students who said they had ever tried alcohol dropped from 93 percent to 71 percent.

The success of alcohol regulation has prompted state legislators to further their efforts.  As recently as two weeks ago, The New York State Liquor Authority issued a declaration limiting the abilities of Internet advertisers to promote wine retailers.

“I think what is happening right now is good. We need laws in place to keep kids safe,” said an anonymous junior.

A major criticism of present day laws is the inconsistency in which they are enforced.

“On one hand you hear stories of kids being arrested but on the other hand many kids just get the alcohol taken away and sent home. Leaving so much of the interpretation up to the cop is unfair to minors,”said an  anonymous junior.

 

There are many stories of underage alcohol consumption that have resulted in unfair punishment. In a story featured in the New York Times, Carter Loar, a senior at Virginia’s Park View High School in 1995, unwittingly used a small bottle of mouthwash to impress a girl in his English class. As a result of the school’s zero tolerance laws, Loar, whose mouthwash contained 22 percent alcohol was suspended for ten days and forced to attend three substance abuse seminars.

 

Some people believe that the laws themselves are the problem.

“With the current system of zero tolerance under the age of 21 tempts teenagers to break the law. They feel cool to drink so they drink excessively. Many European countries have very young drinking ages and they tend to have much more responsible drinkers because of it,”said a anonymous senior.

“It didn’t feel illegal so people didn’t worry about it,” said an anonymous Port Washington parent while reminiscing about the ‘70s. “I don’t remember there being all these make-shift memorials to teens who were killed as a result of drunk driving. If there was a party with beer, it was planned and we had adult supervision. Also it wasn’t like cops looked into every house party. We had no problem calling them for a ride home even with alcohol on our breath. They’d rather we be safe than sorry.”

It would appear that the majority of Schreiber students estimate the extent of student drinking inaccurately.  Of approximately 230 students interviewed, about 40 percent said that they drank regularly.  The majority said they drank either on rare occasions or never.  Yet, about 60 percent of the students polled believed that three quarters of the student-body drank regularly.  The average student, according to polls, believed that about 63 percent of students drank regularly.

Perhaps this overestimation occurs due to the size of the groups in which students drink.  The poll showed a much higher concentration of students who drink in large groups than in small.  Thus, if students are used to seeing so many others drinking in front of them, they may believe a higher percentage of students drink regularly.

“I feel like it’s a little more risky in large groups because people are more likely to drink more and be irresponsible,” said a student speaking on condition of anonymity.  “The more people, the more potential for negative peer pressure.  It’s calmer in small groups.”

“At parties, not only is there more alcohol to go around and more people to pressure you into drinking, but also there are more people to ‘compete’ against,” said junior Kahaf Bhuiyan. “People in those situations love to show how much alcohol they can handle.”

In the past, the school has been afraid of such party drinking getting out of hand.  In 2009, administrators canceled the annual sports night, placing it on permanent hiatus, after evidence surfaced of sleepovers in which drinking had, in previous years, gotten out of hand.

Many of these student athletes on such sleepovers were punished by the school for underage drinking.   Accordingly, the majority of polled students felt that not all students were punished equally for such rule breaking.

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While the student body does not share the same opinion on teen drinking, they can agree that drinking is best done responsibly and safely.  While it is impossible to completely prevent underage drinking, it is important that teens are educated in both the risks of drinking and ways to drink with responsibility.