An Oct. 18 Metro story subheaded "Peer Pressure Is Called Key to Keeping Drunk Teen-Agers Off the Road" reported that 200 local teens attending a conference on alcohol and drinking were told that, through various forms of peer persuasion, they have successfully prevented other area youngsters from driving while drunk. What they do as peers, they were told, is far more important than what adults do.
Unfortunately, the facts (including figures reported in the article) do not support those statements. The truth is that drinking teen-agers are killing themselves and others on our highways at ever-increasing rates. As cited in the story, a new study by the Washington Regional Alcohol Program reveals a 27 percent increase in "alcohol-related deaths in which teen drivers were involved" from 1985 to 1986. Would we consider a 27 percent increase in deaths from any other cause evidence of our success in prevention? Of course not.
The fact that alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death in the 16- to 24-year-old age group is not the only tragedy associated with adolescent drinking. In 1986, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimated that about 4.6 million teen-agers have drinking problems. Alcohol use is associated with adolescent depression, suicide and academic failure. In addition, alcohol is a "gateway" to the use of other drugs, including marijuana, cocaine and PCP. Recent figures indicate that one out of ten 12- to 13-year-olds currently drinks.
The problem is serious but not insoluble. First, and most critical, parents and other adults must stop abdicating their responsibility for solving the problem. Teen-agers lack the emotional and physical maturity and experience to make wise decisions about alcohol use. Further, most adolescents do not use alcohol as a beverage. They drink to get drunk. Parents and other adults must recognize these facts and reassert their authority to prohibit drinking at home and at school-related events and to demand stricter enforcement of laws against sales and service to minors. Adults must realize that adolescent alcohol use is neither inevitable nor a normal rite of passage into adulthood.
Those who accept the notion expressed in the article by one teen -- that "we're not trying to push the fact that you shouldn't drink, because you're going to do it anyway" -- should consider the full implications of implicitly condoning an illegal activity. As adults we must no longer leave both the thinking and the drinking to teens. LEE I. DOGOLOFF Executive Director The American Council for Drug Education New York