Teen drug and alcohol use: Stakes are high for youth and adults

Editor’s note: This column is the third in a series about teen alcohol and drug use on the Island. Alcohol and marijuana use is higher among eighth-, 10th- and 12th-grade students on Vashon than it is statewide, according to a recent Healthy Youth Survey.

Several in the community are working toward raising awareness of this issue and finding solutions for it.


How many times have parents heard their teenager say, “Don’t you trust me”? It’s a question every teen asks, and of course the answer they want to hear is “yes.” The truth, however, is that almost all parents worry about their teenagers and the choices they make when they’re with their friends. And with good reason.

As a parent, attorney, coach and resident of Vashon for the last 20 years, I have witnessed the tragedy of our teenagers’ poor choices when alcohol or drugs are involved. We are fortunate when no one is injured or maimed. When the lesson is the loss of driving privileges, loss of parent trust and/or suspension from school or athletics, at least we still have hope that our children will learn from their mistakes and not repeat them.

The legal consequences of a minor’s action, however, can be with them for many years. What are the laws and the legal consequences for breaking them? Here’s a quick look at some of them.

Most of us know that a minor is not allowed to legally consume alcohol or illegal drugs. In Washington you must be 21 to purchase and/or consume alcohol. There are exceptions for religious and/or medical reasons or if the minor is in the presence of his or her parent or guardian. However, a parent or guardian who allows his or her minor child to consume alcohol needs to be very careful of the moral and legal damage that can result from this behavior.

When it comes to teens unrelated to the adult, the consequences of furnishing alcohol can be serious for the adult. An adult who furnishes liquor to an unrelated minor or permits a minor to consume liquor on his or her premises or any premises under his or her control is guilty of a crime that is punishable by up to a year in jail and/or a $5,000 fine. A premise includes a house, cabin, car and boat, among other things.

When underage teens are caught with drugs or alcohol, the legal consequences can be severe and long-lasting. Minors convicted of a first offense for being in possession of alcohol or drugs or for consuming them, for instance, face up to a year in jail and/or a $5,000 fine and the loss of their license for one year. They may be able to petition the judge to reinstate their license after 90 days if they have completed an alcohol assessment and recommended treatment. A second offense results in the loss of their license until they turn 17 or at least one year from the date of conviction — whichever is longer. The law also requires that when a minor has been convicted of being in possession, the court is required to notify not only the parent or guardian but also the public school principal, who, in turn, is required to notify the teachers and any adult who supervises the student.

The minor who is caught drinking and driving faces even stiffer penalties. Washington is a zero tolerance state when it comes to someone under 21 drinking and driving — meaning that teens are not to drink one drop and then drive. But because of the potential of our current breath-testing machines detecting alcohol when none has been consumed, the actual legal limit the state has set for a minor .02 percent blood alcohol level; for adults, as a point of comparison, it’s .08 percent.

Any minor convicted of driving with a .02 or above or under the influence of drugs faces up to 90 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine as well as the loss of driving privileges for 90 days. They will also be required to obtain high-risk insurance for the next three years in order to get their license back. The penalties are greater if they refuse to take the breath or blood test when requested to do so by a police officer who has reasonable grounds to believe they were driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The criminal penalties for vehicular assault or vehicular homicide while under the influence of alcohol are even more severe, and the criminal record is for life.

Adults who permit minors to consume alcohol or drugs on their property or who furnish minors with such substances also can face civil consequences. Recently, for instance, a trial court allowed a jury to consider whether the owners of a home, which also included a separate cabin where an adult son resided, were negligent for not preventing a party in the cabin where alcohol was served to a minor. The minors had obtained alcohol from someone other than the homeowners and brought it with them to the party. A teen died in an automobile accident while driving home from the party. It is important to note that the family did not provide the alcohol that was consumed. The issue in that instance, as in others, came down to a so-called reasonable parent standard: What did the parents know, or what would a reasonable parent know under similar circumstances. If a reasonable parent would have known there was a party due to the loud music, many cars and young people coming and going, they should have investigated and stopped the party. This case makes it clear that as parents we must be vigilant in watching our minors and their behaviors.

As an attorney, I have helped many young people deal with their poor choice to consume alcohol or drugs and the legal consequences they’ve faced as a result. Many of them are ashamed and remorseful. An attorney must have the client’s permission to talk with his or her parents or others about the case. I advise young people to talk with their parents and get support before it is too late. If they hide their problems, it prolongs the pain and agony they are feeling. Fortunately, most young people know their biggest supporters in life are their parents and choose to discuss these issues. Unfortunately, it often happens after they find themselves in trouble with the school, law or addiction. We must learn to start these discussions early and often before they have to learn them the hard way.

— Dave Chapman, the father of two teenage children, has worked as both a prosecutor and a defense attorney. He currently is the managing director of Associated Counsel for the Accused, a nonprofit that provides legal services to people who can’t afford a lawyer.

Parent Forum

The PTSA will host a parent awareness forum about teen drug and alcohol abuse at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 2, in the Vashon High School library.

Islanders are invited to attend and hear presentations from Stephen Bogan, teen drug and alcohol counselor; Susan Hanson, principal of Vashon High School; David Chapman; a Vashon teen currently in recovery; and a parent of a teen in recovery.

For more information, call Laura Hansen at 463-9844.

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