Sue Scheff: Binge Drinking and Teens

“Well, their judgment is extremely impaired. So, they’re much more likely to try dangerous behaviors and not even really have any kind of internal control over what they’re doing.”

– Heather Hayes, M.Ed., licensed professional counselor

According to recent studies from the U.S. Department of Justice, binge drinking accounts for 90 percent of all the alcohol consumed by teenagers. These underage drinkers don’t sip a drink slowly. They pour it down! And the consequences for these kids may be far more than just a bad hangover.

Sixteen-year-old Renee has been there. “Oh, we’d get drunk,” she remembers. “When we drink, we’d get drunk until we were like, drunk-drunk. Like, you don’t even know what you’re doing anymore, you’re like ‘ahhh’ - you’re like all over the place.”

So has 17-year-old Terrell. “That’s the only reason to drink,” he says. “I don’t believe in drinking just to drink. If I’m gonna drink, I’m gonna get drunk. Not only drunk, I’m gonna get ‘faded,’ I’m gonna get ‘messed up.’”

15-year-old Jasmine says many teens just don’t know when to stop. “[They have to] have it ALL, like the whole bottle,” she says, “just get really, really drunk.”

According to the CDC, binge drinkers are five times more likely to have sex, 18 times more likely to smoke cigarettes, “four times more likely to smoke marijuana, four times more likely to get into physical fights with others. And there’s a higher rate of suicide,” says licensed professional counselor, Heather Hayes.

When kids are drunk, they make rash and often dangerous decisions.

“Kids not only make rash and dangerous decisions but they also have no life experience whatsoever, no filter that can kind of stay with them when they’re impaired,” explains Stacey DeWitt, President of Connect with Kids. “An adult when he or she is impaired still has a filter, has a life experience, remembers ‘oh, I did that one time and that was stupid’ or ‘I had a friend who did that and it was stupid’… kids don’t bring that to the table.”

“We used to do stupid things, like sneak out of houses and go like, jack stuff from cars,” Renee remembers.

Terrell says when he’s drunk, nothing matters, “At the time that I’m doing it, you’re don’t really feel bad, because you don’t really think about it, because you could care less,” he says. “You’re just living for the moment.”

Research from Columbia University shows alcohol is the leading cause of accidents, murder and rape among teens.

Experts say it’s the most dangerous drug of all, “There’s not even a comparison,” says Jim Mosher, J.D., with the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation. “This is by far the number-one health problem that young people face in our society.”

Terrell, now in rehab, regrets the things he did when he was drunk. “I did a lot of stupid things while I was drunk, you know,” he admits, “like about a thousand things, really.”

Tips for Parents
Research defines binge drinking as having five or more drinks in a row. Reasons adolescents give for binge drinking include: to get drunk, the status associated with drinking, the culture of drinking on campus, peer pressure and academic stress. Binge drinkers are 21 times more likely to: miss class, fall behind in schoolwork, damage property, injure themselves, engage in unplanned and/or unprotected sex, get in trouble with the police, and drink and drive.

Young people who binge drink could be risking serious damage to their brains now and increasing memory loss later in adulthood. Adolescents may be even more vulnerable to brain damage from excessive drinking than older drinkers. Consider the following:

■The average girl takes her first sip of alcohol at age 13. The average boy takes his first sip of alcohol at age 11.
■Underage drinking causes over $53 billion in criminal, social and health problems.
■Seventy-seven percent of young drinkers get their liquor at home, with or without permission.
■Students who are binge drinkers in high school are three times more likely to binge drink in college.
■Nearly 25 percent of college students report frequent binge drinking, that is, they binged three or more times in a two-week period.
■Autopsies show that patients with a history of chronic alcohol abuse have smaller, less massive and more shrunken brains.
■Alcohol abstinence can lead to functional and structural recovery of alcohol-damaged brains.
Alcohol is America’s biggest drug problem. Make sure your child understands that alcohol is a drug and that it can kill him/her. Binge drinking is far more pervasive and dangerous than boutique pills and other illicit substances in the news. About 1,400 students will die of alcohol-related causes this year. An additional 500,000 will suffer injuries.

A study by the Harvard School of Public Health showed that 51 percent of male college students and 40 percent of female college students engaged in binge drinking in the previous two weeks. Half of these drinkers binged frequently (more than three times per week). College students who binge drink report:

■Interruptions in sleep or study habits (71 percent).
■Caring for an intoxicated student (57 percent).
■Being insulted or humiliated (36 percent).
■An unwanted sexual experience (23 percent).
■A serious argument (23 percent).
■Damaging property (16 percent).
■Being pushed, hit or assaulted (11 percent).
■Being the victim of a sexual advance assault or date rape (1 percent).
Students must arrive on college campuses with the ability to resist peer pressure and knowing how to say no to alcohol. For many youngsters away from home for the first time, it is difficult to find the courage to resist peer pressure and the strength to answer peer pressure with resounding no. Parents should foster such ability in their child's early years and nurture it throughout adolescence. Today’s youth needs constant care from parents and community support to make the best decisions for their wellbeing.

■Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
■Columbia University
■Harvard School of Public Health
■National Youth Violence Prevention Center
■U.S. Department of Justice

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