Underage Drinking: Students Crack Under the Peer Pressure

Underage drinking leads to medical, legal, and academic consequences, but saying “no” can be hard in social standards.

Alyssa Masiewicz, Editor-in-Chief

According to Grand Traverse County Drug Free Coalition (GTCO), from 2008 to 2018 in Grand Traverse County, the percentage of teens who drank underage rose from 18.8 percent to 26.1 percent. What many of these teens do not know are the effects and problems that come along with underage drinking.

In a survey issued out by The Occidentalist, 77.5 percent of students believe underage drinking affects teens, but 22.5 percent do not.

“I think it does impact a lot of people, especially people in this school, and a lot of my friends too. It is actually pretty bad,” said student Travis Brown.* “Because later on in life, people can develop an early alcoholism problem.”

Many students also reported that they have felt pressured to drink, or thought they should because it is “cool” and they want to fit in with their friends. Usually, teens drink underage at parties.

“There is a lot of peer pressure and parties. I went to a party once and they had root beer and vodka. I didn’t take it, but the pressure was there,” said Brown.

There is a lot of peer pressure and parties. I went to a party once and they had root beer and vodka. I didn’t take it, but the pressure was there,

— Travis Brown

Brown is not the only student who has faced peer pressure. Annalise Smith* has faced a situation similar to Brown’s, both of them feeling the need to drink in order to fit in.

“I felt pressured at a party and I thought: ‘Oh, everyone else is doing it.’ It was something I felt pressured to do,” said Smith.

Lieutenant Erich Bohrer, an officer for the Traverse City Police Department (TCPD), deals with underage drinking cases. He has been involved with law enforcement for 25 years, 22 of them being with the TCPD.

Lieut. Bohrer explained why some teens are drawn to underage drinking. He believes that teens might drink because of the experience and the adrenaline of going against the law.

“I personally think they do it for the risk involved. Scientists believe that this lengthy developmental period may help explain some of the behavior which is characteristic of adolescence—such as their propensity to seek out new and potentially dangerous situations,” Leiut. Bohrer said. “For some teens, thrill-seeking might include experimenting with alcohol.”

Throughout Lieut. Bohrer’s career, he has encountered many underage drinking cases. Some situations being more serious than others

“Through the course of my career, I have dealt with several underage drinking situations. If I had to put a number on it, probably in the hundreds,” Lieut. Bohrer said. “These encounters can be anything from medical situations, minor in possession (MIP), drunk driving, and accidents that have resulted in serious injury and death.”

Lieut. Bohrer described the legal consequences of underage drinking. Underage drinking consequences range from community service to expensive fines, suspension of a license, and jail time.

“The consequences of underage drinking from a legal standpoint are a civil infraction for the first MIP violation. A second MIP offense would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $200 fine, and a third offense would result in a sentence of up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine,” Lieut. Bohrer explained. “A third offense could also result in a revocation of the minor’s driver’s license. Operating while intoxicated (OWI) violations could include jail time from 93 days to 5 years, and fines from one to seven hundred dollars.”

Along with legal consequences, there are also consequences at school. Principal Joe Esper explained what would happen if the school was made aware of the substance abuse.

“If a student uses them [vapes, cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, etc.] and we are made aware of it, then they miss up to 30 percent of whatever their current or next sport is,” Esper commented. “The big penalty is if it happens twice a year, you then lose a year of extracurricular stuff. So, mostly sports but it could be non-required, non-sport activities like the musical.”

The consequences of underage drinking don’t just stop at fines and possible jail time, the consequences and effects of drinking could possibly be death. Lauren Reed, the GTCO coordinator, reports that underage drinking takes thousands of teens lives each year.

“Excessive drinking is responsible for more than 4,300 deaths among underage youth each year,” Reed said. “The number one cause of death amongst teenagers continues to be traffic crashes. Of those, 25 percent are intoxicated minors.”

Lieut. Bohrer has dealt with several upsetting cases that underage drinking caused, many of them resulting in death. Bohrer said that telling the parents that their kid will not be coming home is one of the hardest things a police officer has to do.

“In my career, I can say that ten crashes caused death. One crash took out three kids on the peninsula several years ago,” Liet. Bohrer said. “I have had to deliver the notification to a mother that her son is deceased and will not be coming home. This was a result of underage drinking.”

Lieut. Bohrer said that other side effects of drinking are: “Unintentional death and injury associated with driving or engaging in other risky tasks after drinking, homicide and violence, suicide attempts, sexual assault, vandalism, and property damage. Drinking also creates a higher risk for depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.”

The effects do not stop there. Drinking during puberty can change teens hormones in the body. This can lead to a disruption in growth. Underage drinking can affect the brain too since it is not fully developed until the age of 25. Too much alcohol at one time can cause serious injuries and alcohol poisoning.

Underage drinking is more common in the Grand Traverse Area than people believe. Lieut. Bohrer has been dealing with underage drinking cases for years now, and feels very strongly about this topic. He hopes that during his career he has helped people with underage drinking.

“I can only hope I have helped at least one person change their perception of alcohol. In changing their perception, I can only hope I saved them from becoming an addict or possibly dying from the consumption of alcohol.”

*Names have been changed to protect students