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Forum focuses on teen drinking

Parents, teachers and other adults who are struggling to deal with underage drinking in the community will have a resource tonight.

A town hall-style meeting on recognizing and preventing underage drinking will be held at East End Baptist Church, 523 E. Washington St., from 7 to 8:30 p.m. tonight. The event is hosted by the Western Tidewater Community Services Board, and includes panelists from the board, the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, the commonwealth’s attorney’s office and police department, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

The community services board received a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to present the program, child and family services coordinator Anita Morris said.

“Because we are a smaller, rural community, our percentages are lower compared to [other cities], but it still doesn’t discount the fact that seventh- and eighth-graders are trying alcohol for the first time, and sometimes even younger,” Morris said. “If they continue to experiment with alcohol, that can be their gateway drug.”

The meeting will focus not only on the dangers of underage drinking, but also on the overall community impact of prevalent teen drinking. It also will provide an opportunity for attendees to voice their concerns and suggest ideas for preventing young people from using alcohol.

“We really would encourage parents, teachers, counselors, case managers, anyone that works with kids, to come out to hear the panel members speak,” Morris said. “They will get some really important information they can utilize in day-to-day interactions with our youth.”

Teenagers themselves also are encouraged to attend, she added.

Drinking among teens is a special problem, because their brains are still developing, Morris said.

“That is the biggest area of concern,” she said. “When you are a sixth-, seventh-, eight-grader, you are still going through those development stages. If you are ingesting those substances on a regular basis, it does affect your brain development.”

In addition to the physical concerns of underage drinking, the affect on the community as a whole will be discussed at tonight’s forum.

“We will be identifying how it affects our community as a whole, not just the individual adolescent,” Morris said. “I really think we’re able to touch on some really good aspects of the community.”

For more information about the meeting, call 255-4198.