Town hall meeting focuses on teen drinking

SNELLVILLE - More than half of high school students in Gwinnett report drinking and 25 percent report binge drinking in the past 30 days.

Sobering statistics like these and others come from a survey conducted by the Gwinnett Coalition for Health and Human Services, which prompted a town hall meeting at Brookwood High School on Tuesday evening to discuss teen drinking prevention.

The event, hosted by Gwinnett United in Drug Education (GUIDE), featured four guest panelists who shared how alcohol touched their lives and answered questions posed by the audience.

The panelists included Taylor Strange, a 21-year-old recovering alcoholic; Cathy Price, a recovering alcoholic with a teen who had a drinking problem; Phyllis Miller, a Gwinnett County Superior Court judge; and Deb Battle, trauma program manager at Gwinnett Medical Center.

The first time Strange took a sip of alcohol he was 14 at a party. This began a long-term habit of drinking with his friends at parties or rented hotel rooms until he sought help for his addiction years later, he said.

He warned the parents in the audience to not be fooled by their children.

"I see a lot of AA kids coming out at age 15 and 16," he said. "Parents, don't be naive. Kids drink all the time."

Ari Russell, director of GUIDE, said the nonprofit organization is meant to give kids the skill, motivation and opportunities to get involve in the community and be a part of the solution as opposed to the problem.

"The problem is kids accept (drinking) as the norm and parents accept the norm," she said. "When kids think the norm is to get drunk, they want to fit into the norm so they think they have to get drunk. But actually the majority of kids aren't getting drunk."

Panelists answered questions posed to them and then the entire group separated into focus groups where they discussed ways to implement successful alcohol prevention programs and what could be at the heart of the alcohol problem.

GUIDE will use the information gathered from the various focus groups to form future initiatives.

"The main part is to come up with real ideas to prevent underage drinking," said Millie Linville, a GUIDE program specialist.