High school program warns teens, parents of alcohol's dangers

March 16, 1994|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Sun Staff Writer

Some young people may think alcohol is a joke, but Sam Conver Jr., a senior at Howard High School, isn't laughing.

At age 11, he began drinking alcohol at parties. By 14, he was an alcoholic.

"I lied to my parents. I flunked a year at school," recalled Sam, now 17. "I couldn't really hold a job because I kept calling in sick."

After several friends were involved in car accidents, including one who died in a crash on Washington Boulevard nine months ago, Sam joined Alcoholics Anonymous.

"I had a fear of what had happened to others would happen to me," Sam said.

The recovering alcoholic told his story to about 75 teen-agers and parents at Howard High School on Monday night during a program focusing on teen-age alcohol and drug use.

Called "Be Aware-Be There," the program, sponsored by the school's Parent-Teacher-Student Association, was timed to take place before the prom season begins.

Sam and six other panelists warned that alcohol is a common drug of abuse among high school students.

"There are parties where people drink till they drop," said Principal Eugene Streagle.

He mentioned Brian Christopher Ball, 15, who died of alcohol poisoning during a teen-age "all-you-can-drink" party on the Eastern Shore in 1991.

"People think it's in the cities, among blacks and Hispanics," said Tom Dohler, coordinator for SHOP, Students Helping Other People, a substance abuse program in county high schools.

"Uh, uh. It's in the counties, and most of the drugs are used by middle-class white people," he said.

In 1992, nearly 3,000 Americans ages 16 to 20 died from alcohol-related car crashes, Bonnie Cook of the Howard County chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) said in a telephone interview last week.

A 1992 survey by the Maryland State Board of Education, meanwhile, found that Howard County middle and high school students saw little harm in drinking beer and wine.

For example, 86.2 percent of the Howard County 12th-graders responding to the questionnaire said they had used beer and/or wine in the past 12 months, compared with 72.2 percent of 12th-graders across the state.

Much of the alcohol Howard County teen-agers consume comes from home, said Officer Thomas L. Bellmon, a DARE officer, and a panelist at Monday's event.

"When [the parents] are not home, the kids are entertaining each other," he said.

Ms. Cook agreed. She said MADD has found that many Howard teens consume alcohol between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Some say they do it because they are bored.

"I think they have learned from DARE and other programs how to say no and everything else," she said. "But when you leave school and you don't have anything to do in the afternoons, and all your friends go drink, you'll go drink with them."

And parents sometimes illegally serve alcohol to their children, believing the youngsters will be safe from having to drink and drive, Officer Bellmon said.

Even outside the home, alcohol is easy to get, Sam said. He recalled walking into a liquor store when he was 16 and buying nTC alcohol without being asked to show proof of his age.

"That shocked me the first time, because it was a dare," he said.

DaLawn Parrish, a Howard High junior who plays three varsity sports, said he doesn't follow the drug-using crowd, despite pressure to do so.

"I just leave it alone and say, 'I have something to do'. . . or come straight out and tell them, 'No.' If they tell me to do it, then they are not my friends," he said.

At the end of Monday night's program, Sandy Calton, a PTSA member, said teen-agers don't have to drink.

She was the host of an alcohol-free party at her Elkridge home Saturday that attracted 104 young people.

Her family is among 200 families listed in the school's PTSA directory who have pledged to hold only alcohol-free parties.

Harriett Katzen, another PTSA member, said she wished the turnout had been better at Monday's program, but said the stories were moving. "I kept hearing loud and clear as parents we have to set the example," she said.

Sam, meanwhile, said he hoped everyone got his message: "That you can have so much more fun without alcohol. I know my life is better after losing the alcohol."

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