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Home » Uncategorized » Parents can be the solution to Grant County’s underage drinking problem

Parents can be the solution to Grant County’s underage drinking problem


Tuesday, November 26, 2019; Silver City, NM: Almost 100 deaths were attributed to alcohol in Grant County, according to the New Mexico Substance Abuse Epidemiology Profile from 2013 to 2017.  That toll on life not only affects adults, but their families and especially youth, because the cycle of alcohol addiction starts young in Grant County.

“People don’t take underage drinking seriously, and they should,” panelist Hannah Riley said. Riley is a junior at Western New Mexico University (WNMU) majoring in chemical dependency counseling and psychology. She grew up in Grant County and has personal experiencing with the complicated issues youth have with alcohol.

Riley was one of six expert panelists gathered by the Youth Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition (YSAPC) of Grant County to discuss the issue of underage drinking and brainstorm solutions to the problem at last Thursday’s town hall “Brain Worthy: A case against underage drinking.”

Panelist included Grant County DWI Program Director Cindy Blackman, Grant County Sheriff’s Department Lieutenant Mike Burns, 6th Judicial District Court’s Assistant District Attorney Norman Wheeler, Silver City Police Department Officer Leticia Lopez, and Jim Helgert, managing partner of Recovery Management and WNMU Assistant Professor of Chemical Dependency Counseling.

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Town Hall panelists called on the community to help decrease underage drinking by refusing to supply youth with alcohol. Over 65% of Grant County high school students report obtaining alcohol from friends and family. (Pictured left to right) Panelists included: WNMU Assistant Professor of Chemical Dependency Counseling Jim Helgert, WNMU junior Hannah Riley, Grant County Sheriff’s Department Lieutenant Mike Burns, 6th Judicial District Court’s Assistant District Attorney Norman Wheeler, Silver City Police Department Officer Leticia Lopez, and Grant County DWI Program Director Cindy Blackman.

“In my 25 years in the county, the average age of alcoholic onset was 13-years old when I started, now its 9-years old,” Helgert said.

“We are seeing more alcohol-related crimes, and younger people with more problematic behaviors surrounding their substance abuse.”

Lieutenant Burns agreed, “Underage drinking happens in our community by passive agreement and attitudes of adults; there’s an undercurrent of parental control when parents supply alcohol to youth for birthday parties and graduations.”

Officer Lopez said her department “sees a lot of house parties and family parties” involving alcohol given to youth.

Over 65 percent of high school students in Grant County report obtaining alcohol primarily from family and friends or supplying money for someone to buy it for them, since universal identification requirements to purchase alcohol at stores and restaurants have limited their access to those venues.

 “It would be harder for youth to access alcohol if their family refused to buy or supply it,” Riley said.

The reason for the concern for underage drinking is recent studies have shown a person’s brain doesn’t fully developed until age 25, and underage drinking effects adolescent brains differently than adult brains.

Youth who heavily drink have been shown to have underdeveloped hypothalamuses, up to 10 percent smaller than adolescents who don’t drink. The hypothalamus regulates hormone levels, body temperature, emotions, sleep cycles, sex drive and even digestion.

“Parents allowing children to drink at home increases the odds of children becoming binge or problem drinkers,” Lieutenant Burns said.

“Underage drinking is a huge problem in the community. The community needs to be concerned about it and make a proactive effort,” said Wheeler.

Lieutenant Burns added, “In my 25 years on the police force I’ve seen lots of death and destruction due to alcohol consumption: sexual assaults, beatings and deaths.”

The recent alcohol-fueled melee at Bataan Park earlier in November was mentioned, an event that caused not only numerous injuries but engaged multiple law enforcement agencies impacting their response times to other community calls. 

Lieutenant Burns said it was time to “turn people’s opinion and take a concerted effort starting with you and us.”

Town Hall attendee Javier Marrero said he “sees it a complicated issue for everyone, but people came together to do something about it, especially for youth.”

Attendee Irma Saenz said its “a tough situation and a long road to make change.”

That long-term change is what YSAPC is about, according to program specialist Corina Castillo. “YSAPC takes an environmental approach; we work on issues from a long-term goal to change laws, policies and social norms for the greatest impact possible.”

Saenz said she “plans to come to meetings and get involved to make change.”

Attendee Pat Kimmick, who has worked and lived in Grant County for over five decades, said “It’s long road of hope to change how we think about alcohol.”

Panelist Blackman urged community members to say something when they see house parties and underage drinking, “You think you will ruin their lives by intervening, but you are saving their lives.”

YSAPC convened the town hall with funding from the “Community Talk” initiative of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMSHA) Underage Drinking Prevention Education Initiative.

If you would like to get involved with creating solutions to underage drinking in Grant County join the YSAPC at their next meeting on Thursday, January 23, 2020, at noon to 1 p.m. at the HMS’ Silver City Community Health Center Conference Room, 1007 N. Pope St.

For more information on YSAPC contact Castillo at (575) 597-0025 or email This news release is made available by the Youth Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition of Grant County, a program of the Center for Health Innovation, New Mexico’s designated Public Health Institute, and funded by the New Mexico Office of Substance Abuse Prevention (OSAP).