Mostly clear

Fighting teen drinking

  • Zac Parenti, 18, a senior at Analy High School is a recovering addict who is now the president of the 1-4-1 Club, an anti-drinking group at the school. Zac and other members take the message about the risks of drinking alcohol to Sebastopol area middle schools. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

Zac Parenti, a senior at Analy High School in Sebastopol, is on the front line of Sonoma County's campaign against teenage drinking.

He's familiar with the statistics that show nearly four out of 10 high school juniors are consuming alcohol and nearly three out of 10 are binging with five or more drinks in a row.

Binge drinking, deemed the most common underage alcohol consumption pattern, has become "a primary public health priority," according to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report in 2011.

Sonoma County officials are concerned that binge drinking escalates during the teen years — from 3 percent of seventh graders to 13 percent of ninth graders and 27 percent of 11th graders — according to the latest countywide survey.

But they've also realized that many teens are deaf to the "do's" and "don'ts" coming from adults, even when the evidence abounds that alcohol can ruin, even end, young lives.

Nor does it help that many adults are willing enablers of teen drinking, believing it is a so-called "lesser evil." Or that alcohol is readily available to underage drinkers and that, some say, Wine Country culture celebrates alcohol.

The anti-drinking message must be transmitted from teen to teen, local officials say.

"We are working with youth to find their voice," said Donna Newman-Fields, alcohol and drug prevention coordinator for the Sonoma County Department of Health Services.

There's evidence that the approach — part of a comprehensive alcohol and drug prevention program funded by annual grants of $350,000 since 2007 — is paying off.

"I think we have a model that works," said Lynn Garric, Safe Schools project director for the Sonoma County Office of Education.

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