By Arianna Poindexter
WALDORF, Md. – Kareeba Gabriel has always dreamed of a fairy-tale prom. Inside her closet awaits her one-shoulder, navy-blue dream dress. A reservation for a Hummer limousine has been placed, and her makeup is ready to go.
But one detail still lingers about the May 7 prom as pressure mounts from her friends: the burden of deciding if she will drink alcohol.
“I hate feeling the pressure because I know it’s wrong to drink. I just don’t want to put a damper on everyone’s night,” said Gabriel, a senior at Westlake High School here.
The constant increase in underage drinking and driving has sparked numerous school-level campaigns to put an end to this dangerous practice, especially on prom night.
Westlake High School is participating in a nationwide campaign known as the Prom Promise. Founded in 1990 by Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD), this movement provides students with prevention tools to deal with issues of underage drinking on prom night and in their everyday lives.
Alcohol use remains widespread among today’s teenagers. Nearly 72 percent of students have consumed alcohol by the end of high school and more than 37 percent have done so by eighth-grade, according to the federal National Institute on Drug Abuse.
And traffic deaths among teens during typical prom season weekends throughout May are higher than any other time of the year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“The pressures of being a teen in today’s society can be rough. Unfortunately, students see drinking as a way to socialize,” said Robert Griffiths, a math teacher and the SADD sponsor at Westlake.
The school sells Prom Promise bracelets and students attending the prom are asked to sign a contract that says they will not to use alcohol or drugs on that night. Revenue from the bracelets goes back to the organization.
Although Gabriel is feeling the pressure to drink, she said she knows deep down that drinking is not the way to go.
“Prom is about having fun and enjoying your last care-free day with your peers. Drinking can be really dangerous. I don’t want the night to end in tragedy,” Gabriel said.
Other teens said they are not feeling as much pressure to drink on prom night.
“I don’t feel pressure to drink at all,” said Janell Goodwin, a senior at Westlake. “Most of the people that I’m going to prom with don’t drink, and I’ve signed the prom promise. I have to keep my word.”
The SADD group is hopeful there will be fewer tragedies this prom season because of its campaign.
“We have sold almost 300 Prom Promise bracelets,” said school sponsor Griffiths. “I am confident that the students are aware that drinking on prom (night) can be harmful and they will make responsible decisions.”