With study, student addresses underage drinking


St. Anthony native Jenna Bieker believes her home county has an underage drinking problem, and she thinks parents can do more to shut it down.


A 2015 survey administered to Dubois County middle and high schoolers shows that 78 percent of local high school seniors believed their parents would not view them consuming alcohol as wrong. Bieker, a 2017 Indiana University Southeast graduate, said the study’s findings are problematic in more ways than many parents know.

“I think a lot of people know it’s a problem, but they don’t understand the level of the problem,” said Bieker, who earned bachelor degrees in criminal justice and psychology. “A lot of the kids either have parents who don’t care or think they don’t care (about underage consumption), so that’s why I decided to target the parents. It’s very much a vicious cycle.”

As part of a summer fellowship with the Dubois County Community Foundation, Bieker created a website called Dubois County — Parents Who Host, Lose the Most. The site is loaded with substance-abuse and mental health resources, news and science articles that explain how the teenage brain develops and information about the repercussions parents could experience if they get busted with young people drinking on their property.

It also features a list of 2015 statistics from an Indiana Youth Survey regarding underage drinking in Dubois County, including a startling figure — nearly 4 percent of sixth-graders reported consuming alcohol on a monthly basis.

“That’s mind-blowing to me,” Bieker, 21, said. “Sixth-graders are what, 12? And they’re using alcohol monthly.”

Bieker said she believes the culture of acceptance that exists toward drinking in the area is rooted in the county’s German heritage and parents rationalizing that since they drank alcohol as teens, their children should be able to drink as well. There are also some who refute her findings by noting that adulthood and the ability to serve in the military start at age 18.

But the physical and psychological effects of underage consumption are well-documented and suggest alcohol can alter brain development in ways that could potentially affect both the organ’s structure and function. This may cause cognitive or learning problems and make the brain more prone to alcohol dependence. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the brain of a young adult will continue to develop well into the person’s 20s.

“Your brain is still developing — it’s making connections, it’s growing,” Bieker said of underage drinkers. “If you stunt that development, it has lifelong consequences.”

The ramifications adults suffer if they get caught supplying or harboring underage drinkers are also life-changing. Supplying alcohol to a minor or providing a personal location where alcohol can be consumed by a minor is a Class B misdemeanor and is punishable by up to 180 days in jail and fines reaching $1,000. On the second offense, it is increased to a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and fines of up to $5,000. A Level 6 felony charge can be brought against an adult if someone suffers serious injury or death due to the consumption of alcohol on their watch. It carries a penalty upon conviction of up to two and a half years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.

Bieker hopes Parents Who Host helps increase awareness of the issue and educates local residents to the consequences of underage drinking. Though she will begin attending the Robert H. McKinney School of Law at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis next week, Dubois County CARES — a coalition empowering the county’s youth to be free of alcohol and drugs — plans to attend eight county rivalry football and basketball games this year to spread Bieker’s message.

Bieker noted she didn’t drink alcohol while underage but stressed she isn’t touting a holier-than-thou mentality. Instead, she is striving to make an impact close to home. Even though she’s away now, she wants to return to Dubois County and work in the prosecutor’s office after earning her law degree.

“I hope (the website) continues to gain attention, and it helps to educate people and bring awareness,” Bieker said.

Dubois County — Parents Who Host, Lose the Most can be found on Facebook.

Bieker is the daughter of Jake and Sharon (Schwenk) Bieker of Saint Anthony.

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