Emily, 22, was a swimmer and a cheerleader in her high school in Fairfield when drinking became her sport of choice.
She shared her story with Trumbull High School freshmen recently at THS.
"I started when I was 12 or 13," she said. Her parents had always offered her wine with dinner, figuring she wouldn't be as likely to abuse alcohol if it was not demonized.
But the opposite happened. The teen, under pressure to perform physically and academically, began to drink more than wine at dinner, and graduated to drinking in secret.
"I transferred quickly from wine to beer to hard liquor. Gin was my drink of choice," she told an audience of 300 Trumbull High School freshman.
"I look like everybody else but I'm a recovering alcoholic," she said. Emily has been sober nearly five years this month.
When she drank, she partied with an older crowd, did things "no 14-year-old should do," and had blackouts. After a while she stopped drinking with friends and at age 16 started drinking gin in a closet while holding a teddy bear and crying.
There were times she did not remember where she had been the night before, and she often checked her car to make sure she had not hit anything while drinking.
"I got physically addicted to alcohol," she said. She had withdrawl when she didn't drink, and her friends thought she was sick when she sober. She couldn't get out of bed in the morning without a drink.
Then her world collapsed. She lost her spots on the Swim Team and the Cheerleading squad. "Cheerleading was the only thing I had left in my life," she said.
Emily had tried to quit many times before, but this time she confided in friends, teachers and her school counselors.
She went to her prom sober and graduated high school sober at 17. She went on to a successful college career.
Emily said she was fortunate her high school had excellent resources to help with her addiction.
Defying the Odds
Emily was fortunate she did not become a statistic. Alcohol is credited with leading to more deaths in America, from alcohol poisoning to car crashes and assaults, some with fatal injuries, speakers said.
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Drinking is more appealing to teens because their brain chemistry favors rewards over risk. Drugs' and alcohol's effects are magnified in the teenage brain and substance abuse can permanently change the brain's chemistry.
The human brain's judgement center does not fully develop until the 20s, said Melissa McGarry, coordinator for Trumbull Partnership Against Underage Drinking.
Teens in this stage are also exploring new experiences, which they are supposed to do, just not with mind-altering substances.
Preventing Underage Drinking
Dangerous explorations can be avoided with proper parenting and support. Parents were encouraged to set rules, talk to their children, establish strict rules and consequences and be involved in and monitor their children's activities.
Connecticut also toughened its drinking laws, making it a misdemeanor for adults serving alcohol to minors. At house parties, the homeowner is also responsible even if he or she is not home during the party.
Any host serving alcohol to minors on any premises is subject to fines and jail for each minor caught drinking.
Local Attorney Tom Tesoro said part of his job is to penalize hosts or people liable for serving alcohol to minors, leading to the potential loss of their lifesavings and possibly the family home.
"We will be relentless. We will be expensive. We will ruin you," he said.
Teens caught drinking face license suspensions or an extended wait to get their licenses. They also get a criminal record that hurts their chances to get into college.
Students can stop a situation before it happens by politely excusing themselves or using humor to defuse it. And if someone becomes too drunk, medics should be called rather than letting the person "sleep it off."
"Alcohol is a toxin. It can depress your respiratory center until you stop breathing," said Dr. Gary Kaml, a trauma surgeon at Yale-New Haven Hospital. Alcohol poisoning requires pumping the stomach and ingesting liquid charcoal to absorb the rest of the alcohol.
And for those teens who are drunk themselves or need a ride home, they should call for a ride, regardless of the consequences, speakers said.
People can an also report underage drinking parties anonymously by sending a text message to "TRPD" (plus his or her tip information to CRIMES (274637)). Trumbull police are trained to deal with party dispersal, said veteran Trumbull Police Officer Joseph Velky.
"At the end of the night, it's always about getting the kids home safe," he said.
Meanwhile, Colleen Sheehy Church addressed the teens regarding her son, Dustin, who was a passenger in a car crashed by a drunk driver. The loss has devastated her family and continues to do so, she said.
She keeps his cellphone so she can listen to her dead son's voice.
"It doesn't end. It changes your life forever," she said.