Vodka gummy bears intoxicating for some teens
MILWAUKEE - Alcohol is still the number one drug abused by teens. It's cheap, it's accessible, and now your teen could be hiding it somewhere you'd never think to look!
For instance, at Ten Bells Bar in Milwaukee, gummy bear shots are a customer favorite. That's all well and good at a bar, but log onto YouTube and you can find video after video of teens experimenting with vodka gummy bears.
KC Missall and Karen Kolberg are counselors with 'Impact'-- a local group that coaches Milwaukee teens about drug and alcohol prevention.
They showed us a YouTube video with more than 80,000 hits. The video is a tutorial on how to make vodka gummy bears--a new way to disguise the effects of alcohol in teens.
Kolberg warns, "The brain doesn't fully develop until age 24-25, so if you put any substance, while the brains developing, and the brain gets used to that substance, and it actually affects long-term memory, and short-term memory."
Kids are now starting to drink at age 13, and experts fear fads like vodka gummy bears will only make that age continue to drop.
"So gummy bears may come and go, we don't know, but once it's on YouTube is it gonna stay longer--more people may know about it--it probably will. I mean fads I think last a little bit longer when they're exposed like that," Kolberg says.
One of the ways 'Impact' reaches out to teens is through peer counselors. Teens attend training sessions so they can teach other kids about the dangers of drinking. Neenah Velazquez is a Sophomore at Veritas High School. This is her second year of peer counseling. She explains, "Ever since I was little, I've heard adults talk about drinking, or seen them drinking, and I always just thought that that's not--that doesn't look fun."
They admit being in high school is tough, but alcohol isn't the answer. Kaela Wojtycski is also a teen counselor. She says, "I mean trying to keep your grades up, balancing between friends and school work, just that kind of stuff, kind of gets to you sometimes. But you know, doing things like drinking, smoking, not helping--just going to add on to your problems actually."
These teens haven't heard of vodka gummy bears in their school, but admit kids can be sneaky at times.
"Walking through the hallways here, I've had people walk up to me and ask if I have tried any stuff, and I tell them no," Neenah says.
"I think if there's a high school student going to the point of sneaking alcohol into school, it's probably a high school student using on a regular basis, so it's not just using at school--it's using outside of school, using at other times, you know," Missall warns.
In some parts of the country, kids have been known to sneak the gummies into baggies at school. Vodka also barely has an odor to it, so it's easy to sneak in. There is a warning sign for parents: The gummies have to soak in vodka for a couple days-- so parents should be on the lookout for anything suspicious in the fridge.
We showed some local *college* kids the YouTube tutorial. One student said, "Yeah, I've heard about it. You do the gummy bears and vodka--kinda like cherry bombs almost, but with gummy bears."
Another college student said, "They act like it's not even really drinking so much, because you can't really taste it."
Mom Terri Steidl knows these temptations are out there, and tries to keep the lines of communication open with her teens.
"They talk to me, and when they come home I check 'em, and make sure they haven't drank, and there's consequences."
While many parents worry about drinking and driving, our experts say the act of drinking itself-- whether at a party, at home, or at school--is just as dangerous--even in the form of a bite-sized candy.
"It's not just car accidents, it's other accidents as well--falling risks, drowning risks, fire risks," Kolberg explains.
Missall adds, "There's all these things could happen--they end up in you know, risky situations as far as sexual situations. They end up in situations unsafe or uncomfortable."
Despite the drinking culture here in Wisconsin, our counselors say kids here don't really drink more than the national average. Instead, the big issue here is teen binge drinking, and it can start with something as simple as a piece of candy.