Drinking is commonplace at resorts, even in case of teens
DENVER – Resort towns across the West are struggling with underage drinking, worried that their kids are so swept up in the party atmosphere that they don’t heed warnings about the dangers of alcohol.In Jackson, Wyo., teens say alcohol is a staple at parties. In Steamboat Springs, one study found a disturbingly high number of high schoolers engaged in binge drinking. Taos County, N.M., home to three winter resorts, is ranked in the state’s top five when it comes to teen drinking.Social workers and educators in those communities say the drink-and-be-merry environment rubs off on children, and national experts say there is reason to be concerned.”Kids tend to pattern their actions after the adults they see in their community,” said Dr. Jacqueline Miller, a medical epidemiologist with the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We show kids one thing and we tell them another.”Experts say they’re unaware of any national research focusing on underage drinking in resort towns, which tend to be small and isolated.A 2004 survey by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration showed alcohol abuse among people 12 years of age and older is worse in big cities than in small ones. But principals, counselors and activists in resort towns say they have plenty of statistics and anecdotal evidence to show the problem they face is a big one.In Steamboat Springs, a 2004 survey found that nearly three-quarters of the town’s high school students who responded had drunk alcohol in the previous 30 days, and more than half had done binge drinking in that period, said Sandy Visnack, director of the Grand Futures Prevention Coalition, a substance abuse prevention group.Nearly 80 percent of Steamboat High School students participated in the survey, conducted by physician Dan Smilkstein and the school district, Visnack said.The survey also found the average age when students began to drink was 13.7.Visnack said public drinking is widespread in Steamboat Springs, which lures visitors to northwest Colorado with skiing, trail rides, music, rodeos and other attractions.”Most of our community events, summer concerts, bike races, involve selling or serving alcohol to adults,” she said. “We do have a lot of over-serving and over-consumption that really sends a message to our young people that alcohol is necessary to have a good time.”Jackson, a playground for skiers, anglers, hikers and wildlife watchers, has what Jackson Hole Middle School principal Jean Coldsmith calls an “apres-ski mentality.””Any of the events that we have, there’s always alcohol there,” said Coldsmith, who heads the Teton County At-Risk Committee. “You think about Bode Miller and some of his comments recently, that’s an example of it, but we see it here in the community. We see it frequently.”Miller, an Olympic and World Cup skier, caused a furor when he told a television interviewer in January he had skied drunk and wouldn’t rule out trying it again. He apologized later.In Taos, N.M., signs for brewery-sponsored events abound, said Carlos Miera, executive director of Taos/Colfax Community Services. He said studies show Taos County is ranked sixth in New Mexico for binge drinking among high schoolers and fifth for high schoolers who drink and drive.Activists are hustling to attack the problem. Jackson was galvanized by an alcohol-related car wreck that killed a teen, Coldsmith said. According to Visnack, Steamboat was energized in part by a routine police check that found an alarming number of liquor stores sold to underage buyers.Groups in Taos are trying to reduce the number of outdoor liquor ads. Steamboat Springs is holding forums to alert parents to the problem and working with liquor stores to crack down on illegal sales. In Jackson, schools are re-examining their policies, police are working with parents to crack down on teen drinking in homes, and groups are reviewing research on approaches tried in other places.”A lot of education, a lot of awareness, a lot of initiative,” Coldsmith said.
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