Prom & Alcohol – A Deadly Duo

Avoiding alcohol at Prom can save your life — and more.

Because conveying the Three E’s — Etiquette, Ethics and Empathy in the Workplace, and in life — is the theme of my blog, I believe that addressing them in connection with Prom is important. Therefore, I am devoting this entry to the subject. And, yes, I realize that students ready to embark on their Junior or Senior Prom might consider the word, “deadly” in the title to be a real buzz kill with regard to the occasion.

But, both sadly and urgently the facts remain that during Prom many teens meet their waterloos from alcohol abuse. Drinking clouds judgment and frequently ensnares students in situations the results of which can range from losing a college scholarship or admission opportunity, a great internship or job, or one’s reputation. Imbibing also can lead to sexual assault, physical injury and even death. Thus, the combination often is deadly. And, even though many Prom-goers wisely abstain from alcohol others might not; therefore, it pays to examine how catastrophes can be avoided.

Driving Distracted or DUI

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), automobile collisions are the number one killer of teenagers, and most of these accidents are due to drinking and driving, including buzzed driving. And here’s something of which you might not be aware regarding blood alcohol concentration (BAC): According to the CDC, “It is illegal for adults to drive with a BAC of .08% or higher,” but “it is illegal for anyone under age 21 to drive after drinking any alcohol in all US states.” Thus, there is zero tolerance for teenagers and young adults under 21 who drive under the influence — period.

Driving under the influence (this includes alcohol as well as other drugs) often leads to risky behavior behind the wheel, including speeding and other reckless and illegal driving, that is responsible for many fatal accidents. In addition, distractions such as passengers talking to the driver or laughing and goofing around, or the driver (alone or with passengers) eating, texting, talking on the phone (even hands free), changing the CD player, fiddling with or watching the GPS, rummaging in the glove compartment and so on are also factors in fatal collisions.

Therefore, arrangements that can be made to remove the burden of driving on Prom include:

  • Hiring a Limo or Town Car – This is pretty typical for Prom, not only to keep everyone safe but to provide a sense of luxury and independence on this special night. Arrange for the limo to drive everyone for the entire evening, including all safely home (at whatever time that might be).
  • Designating a Parent or Other Adult for Emergencies – Stuff happens. And while on many occasions it’s a good idea to have a designated driver, Prom is different; don’t depend on any Prom-goers for this role. Better to have one or more parents or other trusted adults standing by in case someone needs to be picked up. Calling a taxi or car service is fine, as well, as long as it’s one that you know, and be aware that on Prom night there might be a wait. A designated parent or adult friend will be there more quickly!
  • Not Riding With Anyone Who’s Been Drinking or Doping – This might mean hurting someone’s feelings or even confiscating his or her car keys. Your friend or classmate could hold this against you afterward, but at least you’ve made it possible for you both to be around to work it out.
  • Knowing the Location of the Nearest ERBad stuff can happen, too. If you’re not familiar with the area where you will be partying after Prom, make sure you research emergency services that are nearby in case of an accident or illness, and keep the number handy.

Sexual Assault

Just as sexual assault on women on college campuses has risen, this crime has also increased in high schools. According to a report by the Journal of the American Medical Association, one in five female high school students have experienced some sort of physical or sexual violence from her dating partner. (NOTE: While men are also victims of sexual assault, overwhelmingly it is women who are the victims.) A report by the the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault found that “approximately 50 percent of reported date rapes occur among teenagers and the high levels of alcohol consumed on prom night only increase these odds.

Alcohol increases the likelihood of date rape by lowering an individual’s awareness and reducing his or her ability to fight back while increasing violent tendencies and aggression in potential sexual predators.”

Regardless of one’s comfort level, exercise caution and take steps to prevent assault:

  • Avoid Alcohol and Drugs – Alcohol and other drugs lower defenses and inhibitions and especially where there are many teens drinking it is easier to lose all restraint and do something a decent person otherwise might not do, and deeply regret it later.
  • Watch Your Drink and Don’t Mess With Another’s – Everyone should think twice about dropping a date-rape drug into someone’s drink, and no one should lose track of her or his drink. Drugs are highly dangerous and even lethal when mixed with alcohol, but certain dosages dropped into an innocent soft drink can also be deadly. NOTE: Those contemplating drugging someone should be aware that in addition to damaging or ruining someone else’s life — or killing her or him — by planting a date-rape drug the perpetrator could wind up in prison, possibly for life.
  • Don’t Underestimate “Nice Guys, Who Can Do Bad Things, Too – It’s helpful for students to know their dates and the friends they’ll be with well. And it pays to be extra alert if attending the Prom of a friend from another school, or if a student’s date or crowd has a reputation for causing mischief or trouble. Don’t underestimate the power of alcohol to bring out the worst in some people.
  • Realize the Extent That “Mean Girls” Can Be, Well, Mean – Although girls are usually the victims of sexual assault, they can also be bullies and enablers to bring harm to other girls as well as guys. Again, it’s wise to be aware of situations and the people involved.
  • Understand That “No” Means No, and “Yes” means Yes! – Assuming one’s date wants to be kissed, groped or more indicates a lack of awareness, emotional intelligence and maturity. It’s important to respect her or him and err on the side of caution if a clear and sober “yes” is not incoming.
  • Watch Out For Others – Watching out for friends and others who might be victims — as well as stopping someone — friend or stranger — from harming another person — is ethical and shows empathy for others. Sometime it doesn’t take much; here is a great example!

Social Media Repercussions 

High school juniors and seniors are thinking and planning for college or other higher education after graduation, as well as careers. Record numbers of colleges check a student’s social media presence — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., including LinkedIn profiles. Similarly, the vast majority of employers — 93% according to Money — check out a candidate’s social media presence; postings involving sex or alcohol are obvious negatives and could tank a student’s future plans.

So, the best way to protect against a social media catastrophe is to avoid sticky situations in the first place. Smartphones are everywhere and an embarrassing or compromising photo or account of negative behavior documented on social media, with or without the person’s knowledge or permission, could in the worst-case scenario be a lifelong and tragic reminder of making a very bad choice.

Prom can be fraught with pitfalls. I recommend viewing it as an occasion to be enjoyed as an upper-level student and using it to demonstrate your social skills, reinforce relationships and enhance your brand and reputation. A person’s behavior speaks to his or her character. Risking a reputation and future by drinking and engaging in reckless, cruel and possibly criminal behavior will have its consequences — either now or later.

Recognizing Peer Pressure

Teens often believe that the term, “peer pressure,” is something adults use to describe teenage susceptibility to the influence of others. But the truth is that peer pressure is something to which all humans of every age are prone. The old adage of “keeping up with the Joneses,” describes adults’ need to belong to what they feel is the so-called “in crowds” in their lives.

When adults are parents or professionals who hold the wellbeing of teenagers in their hands, however, they focus on the negative influence that teens often have on each other. There have been studies on teen peer pressure, and in an Atlantic article, Dennis Durbin, a director at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said, referring to a 2012 study, “In the presence of peers, teens will overvalue the short-term rewards of their decisions rather than the long-term consequences.”

Peer pressure comes in many forms. It can be direct via insults, threats of exclusion, backbiting and bullying or indirect by the observance of trend-setting by popular peers in dressing or acting in certain ways. And, there certainly can be a lot of peer pressure when it comes to Prom. However, no matter how strong peer pressure becomes, mixing Prom with alcohol is not the answer and it’s not worth being a perp or a victim. To paraphrase Rudyard Kipling, keep your head on straight no matter how many around you might be losing theirs.

Whether you’re female or male, gay or straight, and regardless of your ethnic or religious background, sexual identity, GPA, post-high school plans, disability, economic situation, political positions, etc., you have a big future ahead of you; Prom is but one night. Stay sober, practice the Three E’s, and wherever you go arrive alive.

Until next time,


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