LACONIA — On a recent weekend, a group of youths gathered at the home of a friend to have a party. All of the usual beverages were served and it's likely that up to a certain point, many thought they were having a good time.
But, according to police, by the time the party ended, one young man was treated in the emergency room of Lakes Region General Hospital for excessive consumption of alcohol, the police had arrived at the party, parents were notified, and three of the older youths, ages 18 and 19, were cited for unlawful possession of alcohol.
The above scenario plays out fairly regularly in Laconia. According to Lt. Al Lessard, 77 people under the age of 21 were charged with unlawful possession of alcohol in 2012. So far this year, 45 have been cited.
For those who are convicted, a mandatory minimum fine of $300 will be paid. It's $600 for a second offense.
Three people in Laconia were charged in 2012 with facilitating a house party while so far this year two have been charged with the same offense. A misdemeanor, those convicted of facilitating a house party where drugs or alcohol is made available to minors, can pay up to a $1,200 fine.
Police have taken a multi-pronged approach toward under-aged drinking. There are grants that the Police Department gets annually that allows extra officers to be on patrol during times of anticipated high need — like graduation, prom, home football games and the upcoming holidays.
A group of officers has adopted under-aged drinking as one of its Problem-Oriented Policing (POP) projects, that was articulated at the most recent Police Commission meeting.
Working with the School District and other civic organizations like Stand Up For Laconia and the Lakes Regional Partnership For Public Health, the police have a goal of education the community on under-age drinking and DWI laws, promote a "chem-free" lifestyle and change the perceptions of those who violate drinking laws, and to improve communications between parents, minors, and parents.
Each POP project is lead by a supervisor, in this case Sgt. Mike Finogle, and a team of police officers, a dispatcher, and a civilian employee. Senior Patrol Officer Steve Orton is also a member of the Underage Drinking team.
Not only can under-aged alcohol abuse cause legal problems for those who imbibe more and more scientific research has shown that early alcohol use can have a detrimental effect on developing brains.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, "young adulthood is a period when most people make critical educational, occupational, and social decisions, and impaired cognitive functioning at this time could substantially affect their futures."
The NIAAA conducted its study in 2000 on the neuropsychological performance of young people who were between the ages of 15 and 16 and who were in treatment for alcohol dependence and found that as compared to the control group of student who hadn't consumed alcohol and found they performed worse on a number of verbal and non-verbal memory tests.
A follow up on the same people eight years later indicated that active abusers did worse than the abstainers on with attention tasks and those who had experienced withdrawal symptoms — hangovers or shakes — did worse than those who were light drinkers.
The study also highlighted the development of brain structures and found the hippocampus — which lies deep in the brain and is critical to learning new information and memory — is adversely affected by alcohol use, especially by binge drinking.
"The ... earlier a person developed an (Alcohol Use Disorder) the smaller his or her hippocampi," read the report.
In addition, the NIAAA cited other studies which showed young people may be more susceptible to developing AUDs because the pre-frontal cortex — portion of the brain that controls impulses — continues to develop well into a person's 20s and damage is done in young brains to impulse control leading to poor decision making.
Research showed alcohol had the same effect on adult however the difference in young people was more acute when he or she drank alcohol.
The study also concluded that young people with Alcohol Use Disorders were at a higher risk of other psychiatric disorders including conduct disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and attention deficit disorders.
While the lasting physical and psychological effects of the above weekend party cannot be known at this time, the one thing that is guaranteed is the three young men who were charged with unlawful possession of alcohol as a result of the party will have to face a judge in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division.
CUTLINE - Laconia Police show their support for Stand Up for Laconia with a sign on their front lawn that they also bring to home football games. From left to right are Det. Jeff Wholley, Senior Patrol Officer Robert Sedgley, Chief Chris Adams, Officer Michelle Cardinal and Officer Kendra Neri. Many of those pictured participated in the recent Problem Oriented Policing project that targets underage drinking. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Gail Ober)