Speaker: Pop culture can promote alcohol abuse

October 4, 2011

By ASHLEY JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer

Some musical groups and clothing brands promote a culture of drug and alcohol abuse, a speaker said Monday. Youth may identify the hidden meanings of the logos, but can parents and teachers do the same?

Prevention of alcohol and substance abuse may start with knowledge about today’s popular culture, Officer Jermaine Galloway said Monday in a speech themed “You Can’t STOP What You Don’t Know.” Addressing the Piedmont Alcohol Awareness Conference at the Dutch Inn, Galloway said, “We need to close the gap,” meaning that parents need to understand today’s culture and slang terms.

Galloway has been an Idaho law enforcement officer since 1997 and has more than seven years’ experience in youth alcohol and drug education and enforcement. He coordinated and led hundreds of party patrols and alcohol-related investigations, according to a news release.

On Monday, Galloway spoke to a group of about 85 people that included educators, parents, representatives of the health department and the Martinsville Henry County Coalition for Health and Wellness, CHILL (Communities Helping Improve Local Lives) members, law enforcement, and court services and youth-serving agencies such as the YMCA and the Boys and Girls Clubs, according to Katie Connelly, community organizer for prevention at Piedmont Community Services.

Galloway discussed slang terms, brands, trends and logos that he said promote drugs and alcohol. Parents and children may not be familiar with them, he said.

One of the terms that he discussed was binge drinking, which refers to men drinking five or more drinks or women drinking four or more drinks within a two-hour period.

A trend developing around the country involves females drinking more and at an earlier age than males, Galloway said. Females’ heavy drinking peak is at 18 years old, compared with males’ peak at ages 21 to 22, Galloway said.

Another trend is the abuse of energy drinks that contain between 6 and 12 percent alcohol. Some energy drinks come in 23.5-ounce cans and are the equivalent of about six regular beers, he said, adding that they come in fruity flavors and the cans contain bright colors.

Some energy drinks contained the equivalent caffeine of about five cups of coffee, but in 2010, laws changed in some places, and the caffeine was removed, he said. That made the drinks simply an “alcopop,” or flavored beer, Galloway said.

The brightly colored cans look similar to nonalcoholic energy drinks, which can make it hard for teachers to identify the cans as alcoholic beverages if they are brought into the classroom, he added.

Another product that is gaining popularity is alcoholic whipped cream, or “Whipped Lightning,” which contains 18.5 percent alcohol, Galloway said.

Last year, area liquor stores made about $40,000 on the product, according to Joseph Cannon, special agent in charge with the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

Youth also are being exposed to more logos and music that promote drugs and alcohol, Galloway said.

There are several retail outlets that specialize in drug paraphernalia, clothing that contains drug and alcohol references, and alcohol-related items such as belts and sandals with bottle openers, he said, adding that some stores also sell “stash hats” that contain compartments to hide drugs.

Pingpong balls also have an alcohol-related use, Galloway said. The balls can be found in the beer sections of some convenience stores promoting the popular drinking game “beer pong,” which involves teams attempting to toss pingpong balls into cups. If one team makes the shot, the opposing team has to take a drink, he said.

He mentioned clothing brands that promote drug abuse as well. These clothing items feature marijuana leaves and bongs, he said.

Youth who wear these clothes display an “identifier,” and other youth may then associate them with drug use, Galloway said.

Some musical groups use lyrics that promote alcohol and drug abuse, he said. These kinds of songs and musical groups are popular among youth, and sometimes the songs are played at school events because many do not know what the songs mean, he added.

“It’s important to know what your stores are selling,” Galloway said. He encouraged those at the conference to walk through local retail stores and spot logos with drug and alcohol references and share the information with others.

If teachers and guidance counselors can identify the logos that certain children are wearing, then maybe they can prevent another child from being influenced and “from heading down the wrong path,” Connelly said.

The conference was funded by a grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention through the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.


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