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Ads aim to decrease teen drinking

Here's a funny drinking story:

A teenage girl was so drunk all she could do was stare as her friend, also intoxicated, was sexually assaulted at a party.Not funny? The Utah Safe and Sober Youth Coalition hopes Utah youths feel the same way.

The true story and three similar ones, premised by "Everybody's got a funny drinking story," will air on Utah radio stations this month. The underage drinking radio campaign uses an unusual approach to try to prevent teenage drinking.

"It seems like everybody who drinks has a funny story about drinking, but the reality is there are more bad stories than there are funny stories," said Tracy Crowell, president of Crowell & Associates.

Crowell & Associates produced the radio spots commissioned by the coalition. The ads are funded by a $360,000 federal grant, said Cherilynn Uden, project director and a representative of the Utah Department of Health.

Uden and Crowell were among several others who spoke at a press conference this week at Cottonwood High School announcing the launch of the ads.

Two of the spots have been on air since before spring break. All four will run through June 20, a time frame chosen to coincide with one of the worst times for teenage drinking -- graduation.

John Dame of the Utah Office of Highway Safety said according to recent statistics, 45 percent of Utah's high school seniors have tried alcohol. A quarter of all high school seniors have consumed alcohol within the past 30 days, he said, and 16 percent have drunk five or more drinks in a row, considered binge drinking.

While past grants required that campaigns focus on preventing drinking and driving, this grant allowed a broader scope, Uden said. The message of the ads is abstinence. No drinking, period.

The coalition also hopes the format of the ads -- teens speaking to teens from their own experience -- will make a big impression on Utah adolescents.

The four teens were chosen from among the 15 adolescents from the Turnabout Adolescent Alcohol Treatment Program who were willing to share their stories.

Drinking began as an activity to do with her friends, said Lauren, one of the teens featured in the ads, at the conference.

"It turned into seeing how much I can drink at parties. Then it turned into I need to drink -- it doesn't matter if I'm with friends or alone."

Now Lauren is a week away from graduating from the Turnabout program, where she has spent 16 months in therapy. Once she returns to Copper Hills High School, Lauren wants to tell her new friends that drinking gets you nowhere. Most of her old friends have dropped out of school or are in jail, she said.

Lee Caldwell, the executive director of Turnabout, said teenagers usually drink more dangerously than adults.

"There's no controlled drinking for kids. . . . There is an urgency about their drinking."

While not as many teens as adults are diagnosed as alcoholics (it takes some years of drinking to fit the medical definition of alcoholic), Caldwell said teens who drink almost always binge drink or drink to get drunk.

"I hope (the campaign) will influence some kids not to drink, to give some more thought and consideration before they do these things," he said.