Experts: Underage drinking problematic in Iowa - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Experts: Underage drinking problematic in Iowa

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Children as young as 13 are experimenting with alcohol, according new information from the Iowa Department of Public Health.

The IDPH also says underage drinking and drug use is second only to depression as a risk factor for suicidal behavior.

Amanda Phippen is is an Adolescent Substance Abuse Counselor with Pathways in Waterloo. She spends most of her time in Black Hawk County schools, talking with young people about their drug and alcohol use.

"A lot of the kids that I'm meeting with are experimenting with alcohol, tobacco, marijuana," she said.

Phippen said she sees students as young as 11 sampling drugs.

According to the IDPH, 16% of children under the age of 13 report trying alcohol, and one in four high school juniors say they drank in the last month.

Dan Conrad, Director of Secondary Education for Cedar Fall Schools, says that is unacceptable.

"First of all, it's illegal," he said. "And, the fact that students at that age are not mature enough to handle that alcohol."

Cedar Falls Schools are working to curb their students' drinking, which according to Conrad, is slightly above the state average. He believes the district's proximity to the University of Northern Iowa makes it easier for students to acquire alcohol.

But some abuse experts say underage drinking problems start at home.

"You are the first and primary preventative specialist in your household," said Nora Kurtovic, a Community Prevention Educator with Pathways in Waterloo.. "You, as a parent, you are. Period."

"I've heard from some that their parents are accepting of it," Phippen said. "'Yeah, mom gave me a beer,' or 'I had a sip of wine at Christmas,' and that's hard to hear."

Ivan Wieland, owner of the Screaming Eagle Bar & Grill in Waterloo, said he makes every effort to keep underage drinkers out of his bar.

"A liquor license is a responsibility to your community," Wieland said. "You need to care about that and take care of your privilege."

Wieland said that to his knowledge, there have been no underage drinking arrests at his businesses in 20-odd years.

Phippen says it's important for communities to discourage alcohol use in minors, because once a child starts drinking for fun, it's a very slippery slope, in an emotionally fragile stage of life.

"Kids are saying, 'Well, I'm stressed about this or stressed about that,'" Phippen said. "We don't want them to turn to alcohol when they're stressed. We want them to turn to other activities."

More resources are available from Pathways here.

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