Started in March 2000, the Cobb Alcohol Task Force is a group of 227 individuals, including parents, and 66 organizations hoping to reduce illegal sales of alcohol and deter underage binge drinking.
Peter Armstrong, who became executive director of the task force in April, says his group is making a difference.
In 2008, 25 percent of high school seniors reported binge drinking in the past month. That dropped to 15 percent in 2010 showing 1,000 fewer student binge drinkers, according to the Georgia Student Health Survey conducted in the Cobb School District.
That survey also showed 36 percent of seniors admitted to drinking in the last month. It was down to 30 percent, or 600 fewer students, in 2010.
Armstrong says it’s about changing attitudes.
“This is a very exciting, good and advantageous time to be involved in a coalition of this kind,” Armstrong said.
The national conversation has shifted, he says, from focusing mostly on treatment for alcohol addictions to preventing underage and binge drinking.
Still, there’s more work to be done.
“We’re working against sort of a culture mindset. … That mindset is, it’s just alcohol,” Armstrong.
Many parents underestimate drinking on the part of their child. About 33 percent of teens participated in binge drinking in the last month, but only 3 percent of parents believed their own teen had engaged in such activity, according to a 2012 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the task force cited.
Underage drinking is a problem across the state, said Jeff Inman, coordinator of the Cobb School District’s Prevention and Intervention Center.
But most students in Cobb don’t drink, he said.
“Not every kid is doing it,” Inman said. “It’s definitely not a majority of kids.”
Students who are drinking aren’t buying fake IDs from a classmate and hoping a liquor store clerk will be none the wiser, Armstrong said. It’s parents and older friends who are the culprits.
Some parents think they can provide a safe environment for experimenting with alcohol, he said, if they purchase the drinks for their children and friends to be consumed in their own home.
“It’s important to recognize it’s illegal,” Armstrong said, adding that he isn’t “anti-alcohol” but doesn’t want it to end up in the hands of someone under 21 years old.
It is legal for a parent to provide alcohol to their own children, but giving it to other underage drinkers breaks state law.
“We’re really trying to reach the adults out there,” Inman said.
He called the task force a “great connection” and said it’s known statewide for its local efforts to curb illegal drinking.
Armstrong points to an increase in alcohol compliance checks on business owners conducted by law enforcement and a new “social host” ordinance as evidence that more Cobb residents are finding the issue important.
The ordinance adopted by the cities of Kennesaw and Austell and unincorporated Cobb County provides penalties for individuals hosting or allowing an event on private property where underage drinking takes place regardless of how the alcohol was obtained.
“We realize this is going to be an issue for the entire community,” Armstrong said.