Underage drinking can lead to behaviors that are dangerous to teens, but less well-known are the physical damages that also can result.

One in three South Carolina teens has had a drink within the past month, Dr. Loretta Novince told Bluffton Rotarians.  And one in five has engaged in “binge drinking” by having more than five drinks in a row.

Novince works with the Lowcountry Alliance for Healthy Youth, a community prevention coalition encompassing Bluffton and Hilton Head.  The organization was created in 2012 in response to alcohol-related tragedies involving local teens.  The initial meeting was organized by former Beaufort County School Board member Julie Bell, Hilton Head High Principal Amanda O’Nan and Hilton Head High parent Roberta Foss.  The goal was to organize a coalition representing the entire community: schools, parents, law enforcement, government, faith-based and civic groups, youth groups, social service agencies, media, health care professionals, senior citizens and businesses.

According to a national research study, the 2011 cost to South Carolina, in terms of youth violence, car accidents, crime, injury, poisoning, teenage pregnancy, fetal alcohol syndrome and teen alcoholism treatment, topped $1 billion.


“It’s just mind-boggling when you look at the data associated with these behaviors,” Novince told Rotarians. The problems are particularly acute with adolescents, she said, because brain development doesn’t stop until about age 25.

Among the most serious problems are that:
• Youths may become alcohol-dependent in six months to three years versus the 10 to 15 years it may take for an adult to become an alcoholic.
• Alcohol consumption may delay the onset of puberty and cause slow bone growth.
• Heavy drinking can cause impotence in males and complications with hormonal cycles in females.
• Alcohol and drug use lower inhibition for sexual activity, increasing unwanted pregnancies, dating violence, and sexually transmitted diseases.
• Youth are at higher risk for mental health problems.
• Youth are at increased risk for traffic crashes and fatalities, violence and property crimes.

Novince said alcohol consumption by teens can lead them to make poor decisions and take risks, to not think about the consequences of their behavior, and to experience erratic emotions and behaviors.

She said the Lowcountry Alliance for Healthy Youth aims to enlist various community sectors to develop comprehensive solutions to preventing and reducing youth substance use and related risk behaviors by addressing the conditions that put teens at risk and by identifying “protective factors” that will prevent them from engaging in dangerous behaviors.

Novince, a Bluffton resident, received her Ph.D. in Developmental, Educational, and Counseling Psychology from the University of Cincinnati, where she taught for 25 years. A consultant and trainer, she has conducted in-service training for schools and agencies and has presented at numerous state and national conferences on such topics as the social and emotional development of children and adolescents, as well as adolescent brain development.

She has extensive experience in community coalition development, data analysis, strategic planning and evaluation.

Persons interested in helping LCAHY meet its goals can contact Communications Liaison Phyllis Neville (PNevs56@aol.com).