By Amanda Wyatt
The East End is “a drinking community with a sailing problem.”
This old joke, which was told by former Pierson principal Bob Schneider, got quite a few laughs at the school’s community coalition meeting on July 16. But behind the humor was a much more sober truth — the belief that alcohol use is widespread among residents of the East End, including its youth.
In an effort to curb alcohol and drug use among Pierson students, 16 members of the community gathered in the school library for a discussion and a special presentation by Kym Laube. Laube is the executive director of Human Understanding and Growth Seminars, Inc. (HUGS), a Westhampton based group which offers a drug and alcohol awareness program Pierson has been using for a number of years.
According to Laube, drinking is more prevalent in this area than in many other parts of the country.
“The East End always has a propensity for high volume drinking,” she said in an interview on Tuesday.
“Drinking seems to be a very prevalent, challenging issue here on the East End,” agreed Mary Anne Miller, a member of the Sag Harbor School Board. “Each community has its own challenge, sort of like the ‘flavor’ of that area.”
That ‘flavor’ is indisputably alcohol, especially among Pierson students, according to the unofficial results of a recent survey conducted at the school by the New York Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS). The school board has received the results of the survey, and although the board has yet to release those results, members did confirm drinking and drugging rates at Pierson were higher than they had hoped.
“Our kids drink and drug higher than the county, the state and the national [averages] on the East End,” said Laube. “If we don’t ask why Sag Harbor kids are drinking and drugging higher than they are up the island or at the state level, then we can’t change it, because we can’t change what we don’t acknowledge.”
Miller stressed Sag Harbor residents should not be hitting the panic button quite yet. The challenge here, she said, is no greater than any other town.
“We’re not in some sort of emergency mode,” Miller said. “But we want to do better. We the community, we the parents, we the students want to do a better job of creating healthy behaviors and supporting healthy behaviors.”
Still, teen drinking remains an obstacle for the school.
According to Southampton Town’s 2008 Teen Assessment Project survey, 30 percent of students in the town report drinking regularly. Three percent said they drink every day, while seven percent drink several times a week and 20 percent reported drinking several times a month, according to the survey. Forty two percent of students reported they had their first drink at age 15 or younger.
In addition, 27 percent of students reported that they binge drank at least once in the past month. Binge drinking, Laube explained, is defined as consuming five to seven drinks within a two to three hour period.
Laube added that drinking among today’s youth is much “more aggressive” than when she was a teenager. Binge drinking is much more common, and kids often begin drinking at younger ages. She attributed the rise in teen drinking to a number of factors and explained that alcohol is easily accessible, not only at home, but at convenience stores and chain pharmacies.
Furthermore, the “party atmosphere” in the Hamptons may be another factor in teen drinking.
“‘Come party in the Hamptons’ is kind of our thing out here, and that in and of itself sends a message to young people,” Laube said. “When they’re working in an industry and there’s that much exposure, it’s just that much easier for them to engage [in drinking].”
Laube added that with limited activities for teenagers, as well as limited public transportation to events, kids sometimes feel that all there is to do is drink.
“We’ve heard kids on the East End talk about boredom being a contributing factor,” she added.
However, she noted perhaps the biggest factor in teen drinking is parental involvement—or lack thereof.
“Parents who are working two to three jobs to afford to live on the East End aren’t necessarily home during those key, important hours,” said Laube. “And then there are parents who are out enjoying their own ‘East End experience.’”
Both Laube and Miller criticized parents who allow alcohol to be served at their teen’s parties — an illegal practice.
“I think some people don’t understand that other parents would be really mad if they found out you were letting kids drink beer at their house,” said Miller who hoped the coalition would help “get our parents on board” with the substance prevention agenda.
“We want to get them to come and be part of a more proactive group to better educate ourselves as to what the kids are facing and what the kids are doing, and how we can support more positive, protective behaviors in the community,” said Miller.
The next coalition meeting is scheduled for Monday, August 21 at 5:30 p.m.
Miller encouraged representatives from all sectors of the community — law enforcement, youth organizations, teenagers — to attend.