It’s the classic high school movie: the main character, a nobody who has recently gained popularity, attends their first house party. They walk into the house and the hits are blaring through a speaker, red Solo cups are in the hands of every person in sight and the frantic host is scrambling to pick up all of their parents’ antique vases before someone decides to play catch with them. The main character drinks too much, embarrasses themself in front of everyone and then, after a heartfelt conversation with a trusted adult, vows to never change themself to appease others. Roll credits. But movies aren’t real life, and the experience of one fictional character is not universal.
According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), underage drinking is common nationwide, with 33 percent of students admitting that they have had at least one drink by the age of 15 and 60 percent by age 18. Every year, around 5,000 people under the age of 21 die in alcohol-related incidents, the majority of which are drunk driving accidents.
A junior, who will remain anonymous as the activities they describe are illegal, thinks that drinking at the high school age should not be as stigmatized as many make it out to be. “I believe that underaged drinking at our age is fun and more of a social event where you can interact and have fun with friends as a way to come together,” they said.
Some students began drinking even before entering high school. “The first time I really drank was in seventh grade,” an anonymous freshman said. “I was with my friends and they had some vodka, and I had never been drunk before so I just thought, ‘Why not?’” The freshman went on to mention how they learned their boundaries that night and have not become sick from alcohol consumption since. Similar to the junior, they believe that as long as a teenager is being safe with their drinking, a little bit of alcohol won’t hurt them. “If a teen wants to go party a little now and then and have a few drinks and have some fun, that’s completely normal and up to them,” they said. “On the other hand, when a teenager is drinking often and gets to the point where they can’t control themselves under the influence, that’s when it gets dangerous. Ultimately, if a teen is being safe with their drinking, it’s fine, in my opinion.”
Most drinking goes down during parties and is a fairly common occurrence when there’s an “open house,” meaning that the host’s parents are out for the night. “There is music playing in the back- ground that’s fun to dance to,” the junior said. “There are always drinking games being played, like beer pong. Everyone is happy and having a good time, and it’s a really fun, energized atmosphere.” They went on to say that parties usually last until 11 or 12 at night and are rarely broken up due to noise complaints. “It’s usually a pretty hectic atmosphere,” added the freshman. “And there are always those few that will get out of control and throw up somewhere, or someone that does some- thing stupid and breaks something, but, other than that, most people try to have fun and respect the host’s house.”
As stated by the NIAAA, in 2015, 7.7 million people aged 12-20 reported drinking more than “just a few sips” in the past month. In the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) alone, 36 percent of juniors have drunk alcohol in their lifetimes, and so have 18 percent of freshmen, according to the California Healthy Kids Survey.
Both sources stated that they never once have felt pressure by their friends and peers to drink or do drugs. “The friends that I hang out with are really understanding and respect when somebody doesn’t want to do something,” the freshman said. “If I drink, it’s because I want to.”
Wellness Outreach Worker Lauren Rocha doesn’t advise students to drink at such a young age, but says that if students plan on participating in it despite its illegal nature and consequences, they should put their safe- ty first. “I think the biggest thing is having people you feel safe around and having friends or family members that you feel like would have your back if something were to go astray,” she said. “Having somebody that knows your boundaries and can remind you of them if you go too far is what I would recommend.”