Dances were becoming a problem at South Portland High School. About 500 students would typically show up for the events, many under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

City police reported a significant demand for their services before, during and after the dances, as officers tried to protect young people from the consequences of their dangerous choices. The right policy to keep the dances safe eluded school officials until they got some advice from the police chief and the officer who works in the school.

“They told us, ‘Don’t have dances,’ ” said South Portland Superintendent Ken Kunin. And that’s what the school will do this year.

With the exception of the Homecoming Dance and the Senior Prom, the high school will go dance free, and school officials are taking some heat in the community. Some feel the policy punishes the many for the crimes of a few. Others argue that it just disperses problem behavior without really doing anything about it.

But the school is doing the right thing. Like the opioid epidemic, teen drinking is a serious problem that kills young people and carries lifelong consequences. It’s extremely important for adults to act decisively when they see a drinking or drug culture develop around a school event, and that’s what appeared to be happening at school dances. Police data show that over the past three years, 40 percent of the alcohol-related incidents involving juveniles occurred on dance nights – just five nights a year.

During the same period, 80 percent of juvenile drug incidents took place on dance nights. That’s no coincidence – it’s evidence that the event itself was changing students’ behavior.

Kunin points out that this is not a local problem. It’s a problem in high schools all over Maine, and other schools should pay attention to what South Portland is doing.

Young people see drinking as a rite of passage, a way to take risks and show that they’ve entered the adult world. It’s also dangerous.

Every year, about 5,000 Americans under age 21 die as a result of alcohol. About half are killed in drunken-driving crashes, while the rest are lost to homicide, suicide and accidental falls, drowning and burns.

There are other, more subtle consequences. Alcohol abuse can lead to depression and other mental illnesses. Teenagers who drink are more likely to become adult alcoholics.

All high schools should consider whether traditions like school dances are creating a circumstance where young people feel that they are expected to drink or take drugs to fit in.

If so, canceling dances, as they did in South Portland, makes a lot of sense.