When Barbara Blalock saw her 15-year-old daughter, Amber, slumped over and barely breathing, she thought the worst.
"It was the scariest day of my life," Blalock said. "If she wasn't dead, I thought she was going to die on the way to the hospital."
Amber had poisoned herself with alcohol. Her blood alcohol content tripled the .08 legal limit.
"She blacked out," Blalock said. "She drank until she couldn't drink anymore."
Arizona's rate of underage alcohol, drug and tobacco use ranks among the highest in the nation, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The 2004 Arizona Youth Survey chronicled the local statistics. Gila County's underage drinking problem is higher than the state average. And girls like Amber, according to the same report, are more likely to use alcohol than boys.
Though attractive and popular, Amber suffered from low self-esteem.
"She had a boyfriend at the time, and he put her down," Blalock said. "She also had some depression."
Children, just like adults, will turn to alcohol to soothe emotional problems, boredom or family strife.
"Kids drink for the same reasons adults drink," said Darlene Duncan, Rim Guidance Center prevention coordinator. "I started drinking as a teen because it was there."
For decades, movies, television, the media and advertising have touted alcohol as a cure-all elixir that comes in a friendly package.
The Hamm's Beer Bear, a friendly creature "from the land of sky blue waters," first trotted across TV screens in the 1950s.
Thirty years later, Super Bowl fans, young and old, rooted for pigskin-carrying, helmet-wearing Budweiser and Bud Light bottles during the Bud Bowl.
And let's not forget the regal Budweiser Clydesdales, the busty Coors twins or the buxom Swedish Bikini Ski Team.
A study conducted by the Center on Alcohol Advertising found that children ages 9 to 11 were more familiar with the characters in Budweiser commercials than popular cartoons.
"My concern is the kids in elementary school are starting to drink," Duncan said. "No matter how well you've taught your kids, there's always a possibility that they're drinking. They have alcohol available either with or without parents' knowledge."
Amber took her first drink at 13.
"Everybody was doing it and she started doing it too," said Barbara Blalock. "Older kids bought her the booze. It's very, very easy to buy it. Alcohol is a gateway drug."
When the thrill of alcohol subsided, Amber turned to other substances for a buzz. She huffed glue and paint, snorted cocaine and used meth.
"I didn't know half the stuff she was doing," Blalock said.
Parties, drinking and drugs are on the rise, said campus resource officer Les Barr.
During a two-week period in February 2006, Payson Police officers busted 13 teenagers for underage drinking.
"For some kids, that's what they live for," Barr said. "Their main focus is the next time they can get drunk. We all have our social needs and if they're not getting it at home they're going to get it somewhere."
And early intervention, Blalock said, starts with communication.
"Cell phones give parents a false sense of security," she said. "They can say they're anywhere and stay out all night with friends."
Now, when Amber stays overnight at a friend's house, she must provide a home number and an adult.
"I have to talk to a parent, and if one's not there then she comes home," Blalock said.
Meanwhile, Blalock also warned parents to monitor their children's computer time.
Teens use them for everything -- homework, socializing and organizing parties.
Several blog sites, including myspace.com, lifejournal.com and zanga.com, provide forums where teens can share the unsavory details of their young lives.
"This is how they are putting together their parties," Blalock said.
"This is where they're talking about how drunk they got the night before."
Signing up with an alias is easy, Blalock added.
"This is how I found out more about what she was doing," she said.
"You can find out where the parties are."
With a few keystrokes, parents can search the names of friends, schools and neighborhoods.
At 17, Amber has lived the seamy side of life most adults will never see.
After a relapse, intensive outpatient treatment and weekly counseling, Amber is sober and working as a pastry chef.
"She's really blossomed, but that wouldn't have happened without support," Blalock said.
April is alcohol awareness month, and to kick it off, Rim Guidance Center, sponsored by a collaboration of local, state and federal agencies, hosted an underage drinking awareness campaign April 1 at the Payson High School football field.
For more information about teen substance abuse, call (928) 468-8055, ext. 3804 for Darlene, or ext. 3808 for intervention specialist Abigail Pederson.