NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – While marijuana and opioids may steal the spotlight, alcohol has arguably had a stronger effect over a longer period on teens than any other drug.
When asked why teens drink so much, Ryan Overstreet, a 22-year-old recovering addict, responded, “My best guess would be to fit in. I think it really is.”
That quest for acceptance was a road to dependency for Overstreet.
“After a while, it just came about to be an escape from reality,” he explained. “It really was to where I didn’t care to know the truth from the false.”
Overstreet is far from alone.
Cole Szabo is a former addict turned counselor. Both he and Overstreet now work with youth at the Cumberland Heights rehabilitation center.
“Alcohol was my first drug, first time I ever had an experience of being under the influence,” Szabo told News 2. “We’re seeing kids getting addicted younger and younger these days.”
By the numbers, alcohol consumption among teens would appear to be down this year in Davidson County.
Total minors charged with possessing or consuming alcohol, driving under the influence, and public intoxication was 46 as of Sep. 14. Through the same point last year, there were 76 minors charged.
But the groups who work with youth paint a different picture. James Bush, with Youths Overcoming Drug Abuse, calls alcohol the sleeping giant.
“It’s been a constant,” he said. “Once you stop paying attention to it, it’s still that much more impactful on you.”
That giant is a factor in close to 4,400 deaths per year, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, citing numbers from the CDC.
Overstreet says it can also be a catalyst along a dangerous path for teens.
But he says there’s a way out through education, and even treatment, for when the drink drags a teen’s life down.
“Alcohol is always there before hand, I think it gets overlooked as the true gateway drug,” said Overstreet. “I know what that empty feeling inside feels like, I do, but it’s not only to relate to that feeling, but to be like, here’s a way out.”