Teenagers drinking a lot more

Published April 4, 2007

St. Petersburg High School seniors will celebrate their May 21 graduation with an all-night casino theme party at the YMCA. There will be games and raffles and plenty of food. And absolutely no alcohol.

The party comes courtesy of a $1,000 grant from Operation PAR, which also is donating money to four other schools for alcohol-free graduation events.

The support comes as school district officials prepare to distribute a study that shows that underage binge drinking is a major concern for Pinellas County teens.

"It's a huge issue," said Kay Doughty, vice president of family and community relations for Operation PAR, a nonprofit drug treatment program serving Pinellas, Pasco, Manatee and Lee counties.

The problem isn't that the number of binge drinkers is growing, Doughty said. It's that binge drinking episodes these days are more intense. "It used to be five drinks for a male, now it's 10 to 15, and the effect on the brain is so incredible. It's horrible," Doughty said.

Binge drinking can lead students to make bad decisions and take unnecessary risks, said Peggy Johns, supervisor of pre-K-12 health education for Pinellas County Schools. Worse, Johns said, it can lead to injury or death. "It's not just intoxication, but you can have alcohol poisoning, where youth just consume too much alcohol and can actually die from it," she said.

The report, a study and analysis of risk behavior reported by middle and high school students last spring, shows that Pinellas teens are binge drinking at a higher rate than their national counterparts.

Thirty percent of high school students reported "episodic heavy drinking" within the past month, compared to a national average of 26 percent.

A study by the Harvard School of Public Health on student binge drinking in the 1990s found that college binge drinkers were usually white and male with a history of binge drinking in high school. In the Pinellas study, white binge drinking students outnumbered their non-white peers nearly 2 to 1.

The survey also asked students about riding in cars with people they knew had been drinking. Thirty-one percent of sixth-graders and 46 percent of eighth-graders said they had. Fifteen percent of high school students reported that they had driven while drinking at least once in the past year.

Parents need to start educating their children early about the consequences of binge drinking, said Jan Urbanski, supervisor of Safe and Drug Free Schools.

Urbanski's department is seeking more than $1-million in federal grant money to combat student drinking. The bottom line is this, Urbanski said: "Alcohol and growing adolescents don't mix."


is the most commonly used drug among Pinellas County students.

binge drinking

is the consumption of five or more drinks in a row within the last two weeks.

More Pinellas youth reported binge drinking than tobacco or marijuana use.

27 percent

of students reported having tried marijuana.

That's down from 34.3 percent in 2000.

Sources: 2006 Florida Youth Substance Abuse Survey - Pinellas County Report.

56 percent of Pinellas County eighth-graders reported having a drinking experience.

33 percent of Pinellas County eighth-graders tried alcohol before age 13.

24 percent of Pinellas County eighth-graders reported having tried marijuana.

15 percent of Pinellas County eighth-graders reported having tried some inhalant (glue, spray paint).

13 percent of Pinellas County eighth-graders said they had been offered some sort of drug on school grounds.

77 percent of Pinellas County high school students (grades 9-12) said they had tried alcohol.

51- Percent of Pinellas County high school students who said they drank alcohol within the previous month

42- Percent of high school students nationwide who said they drank alcohol within the past month.

5- Percent of Pinellas County high school students who reported having drunk alcohol at school.


Far fewer students reported smoking. The rate dropped from 24.3 percent in 2000 to 11 percent in 2006.