By Brian and Cindy Hoeflinger, Special to Toledo Free Press
We want to start this letter by telling you a little bit about our son Brian. As you may know, he died about four months ago in an alcohol-related car accident. He had been drinking vodka at a party with friends the night he died and ended up driving intoxicated. What you don’t know about Brian is that he was not known for drinking. Drinking was the least of what Brian stood for.
After much inquiry following his death, it turns out he started drinking alcohol this past summer just before starting his senior year of high school at a new school. Since his death, we have spent many sleepless nights wondering why he felt the need to start drinking. Brian was a very confident person and didn’t seem to give in to peer pressure. If he had something to say, he would say it and not worry about what others thought.
But something changed his mind about drinking. Was it that everybody was doing it or that he thought it would be a new fun experience? Was it trying to fit in at a new school or trying to look cool? Or was it a little bit of all of these things?
As a teenager, you would probably know better than us because you may be going through the same thing right now or may have gone through this in the past. We also want you to know that Brian was against drinking and driving. Given that Brian was 18 years old, we had no reason not to believe that he was starting to experiment with alcohol. We knew that he was most likely starting to drink occasionally, thus we would talk to him about drinking, especially the dangers of drinking and driving. He would often tell us that he would never drink and drive and thought it was irresponsible and selfish. He would say, “I’m not that stupid, Mom.” But when alcohol is involved, you can’t make good decisions. Your good intentions turn into bad decisions.
We think Brian thought drinking was innocent enough when done in a controlled environment with friends. What could happen? Well, we all know how that story turned out. Dying in a horrific car accident alone was not what Brian was expecting that Friday night. He was just having fun with friends. No harm in a little fun, right? He even wore his seat belt when he left the party that night. But what he underestimated were the effects of alcohol.
You cannot make good decisions when you drink alcohol!
That one statement should mean everything to you and be seared into your mind forever. At your age, you don’t think anything bad can happen to you. It can. You feel invincible. You’re not. We’re being brutally honest with you about our son Brian because we don’t want you to make the same mistake that he did. Good kids will continue to be injured and die as long as teenage drinking continues.
The No. 1 cause of death
Alcohol-related accidents are the No. 1 cause of death in teenagers. An average of 80,000 deaths per year are related to drinking. Teenagers who binge drink are 14 times more likely to drink and drive than those who do not. Statistics show that on average one person will die every 53 minutes and one person will be injured every 90 seconds as a result of drinking and driving. Nothing can ever change these statistics unless someone tries to change the way we view alcohol and teenage drinking. Nearly 80 percent of all students have tried alcohol by the end of high school and 62 percent of all seniors have been drunk. Twenty five percent of ninth-graders and 50 percent of 10th-graders have been drunk. One in five teens binge drink. Only one in 100 parents believes his or her teen binge drinks.
Setting the example
Drinking has become a way of life for many in high school. Did you know that 90 percent of alcoholics first start drinking as teenagers? All of you have the power to say no to alcohol. But you have to want to. Let us tell you that each of you has it within yourself to be a leader and say no to alcohol. If enough of you make a stand against teenage drinking and say no, then others will follow. When enough people follow your lead, then the minority will eventually become the majority. Only then will change happen.
So make it your goal to stop drinking and set the example for others to stop. Especially set an example for your junior classmates as they are so influenced by your actions and what you do. If you stop drinking then they most likely will, too. Trust us, it will happen. But someone has to start this trend. Be a leader and let it be you. Take a pledge against drinking alcohol to show others that change can happen. Help your younger classmates not to start drinking by setting a good example for them.
Parents can have an impact but it is limited.
The risks of drinking
As Brian’s parents, we talked on many occasions with him about the risks of drinking. With a neurosurgeon for a father and a forensic pathologist for a mother, he had heard many graphic horror stories of people who been seriously injured or died as a result of alcohol. And despite this, it happened to him, which leads us to believe that children will only listen so much to their parents. You have to change from within yourselves as a group. You have the power to influence each other much more regarding social matters than a parent ever can. If the people who drink in high school would say that it is no longer cool to drink, then drinking would quickly taper down and eventually stop. But you need to take a stand against drinking and set an example for the younger students. By making this change, you are not only helping yourself but you are helping to protect your younger brother or sister from the pressure they will eventually face to drink.
And for those of you who don’t drink, we applaud your courage to stand up for what you believe in. You are making a difference for the better every day. To this end, we have created a memorial website for our son Brian. The website has many articles, pictures, quotes and videos which exemplify Brian’s personality as well as his many achievements. There is a donation page with a direct link to Brian’s memorial fund which will ultimately be used to benefit charitable organizations or even to assist with alcohol abuse prevention in the future.
Lastly, we have posted a pledge sheet against drinking for teens to sign. If you want to help make a difference and start saving lives, then show everyone that you are not afraid to change the way things are by taking the pledge against teenage drinking. Remember, change can only happen if you take the charge to make it happen.
We want to leave you with a few quotes my son Brian wrote. The first quote was to a family who had lost their son in a tragic car accident approximately one year ago. He wrote, “Tragedy hits at the most random times but mainly to just remind us of all the wonderful things we have in this life. Sometimes it happens to good people, but God chooses them for a reason.” Maybe Brian’s reason will be to stop teenage drinking.
He also wrote, “Even the smallest of accomplishments is greatly appreciated in the eyes of a positive person because it’s another step in the right direction.” You may not think that you can make a difference by yourself, but even the smallest accomplishment of one can lead to positive change.
Lastly and most importantly, he wrote, “The No. 1 concern should be doing what makes you happy.” We think in part, Brian was trying to say to be your own person and not what you think other people want you to be. Please don’t drink just to fit in. “Just be you!” Sign our pledge against teenage drinking which can be found on brianmatters.com.
Thanks for reading this and be the one to make a difference!