Connecticut Communities Work to Discourage Youth Drinking

Experts say that children are drinking at a younger age to deal with the pressures of having to succeed, so schools and communities in Connecticut are looking at new ways to discourage underage drinking, the New York Times reported June 20.

“The problem is clearly not going away,” said Dr. Patrick Broderick, chairman of the Emergency Medicine Department at Danbury Hospital. “It’s filtering down to a younger population.”

“I think it’s a reaction to the stress they have,” said Amy Jonsson, a guidance counselor at Ridgefield’s East Ridge Middle School. “Even in the sixth grade, parents are talking about math placement; they want to make sure their kids can get into Advanced Placement math in high school.”

Connecticut law requires schools to address alcohol and other drug misuse within their curriculum; some are taking additional steps. For instance, in Westport high schools, a youth outreach worker from the town is available in the cafeteria for students seeking help. At Wooster Middle School in Stratford, seventh and eighth graders attend a mock trauma program that graphically shows what could happen to underage drinkers.

At New Haven’s Sheridan Communications and Technology Middle School, a team from Waterbury Hospital presents a show called “The Hard Truth” about drinking and driving. “We’re trying to hit them up front, before they drive or ride with a driver who is drinking,” said Thomas McCarthy, the school’s principal.

In high schools throughout the state, social workers and alcohol and drug counselors conduct support groups for students, as well as confidential meetings.

In addition, a number of Connecticut communities are stepping in to enhance the schools’ programs. In Westport, nonprofit organizations and town and school officials are working with parents to assist them in recognizing what is pushing their children to turn to alcohol.

At Kingswood-Oxford School in West Hartford and other independent schools in Connecticut, parents have joined the “Community of Concern” program that encourages parents to call each other to check on their children’s after-school activities.

In Newtown, the Newtown Parent Connection, a nonprofit group educating parents about underage drinking and drug misuse, holds regular forums. In Glastonbury, the community conducts a “Safe Rides” program that provides confidential rides on the weekends to teenagers and their passengers if the driver has been drinking.