Teen Angst

Helping adolescents deal with anger and other emotions effectively

Teen Binge Drinking: All Too Common

The dangers of teen binge drinking and what parents can do.

Weekends are usually treasured by most teens, as they are looking forward to their big plans.  Some may be chilling with friends, catching a movie, going to a concert, or planning to party.  Regardless of what they have planned, one thing is for certain; alcohol will be a part of many teens weekend plans and there's research to prove it. 

Yes, one of the most widely available drugs on the market, alcohol,  is making headline news again as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) releases a report that one in five high school girls engage in binge drinking.  According to this study, binge drinking is defined as a female consuming 4 or more drinks on a single occasion (for males binge drinking is consuming 5 or more drinks in one sitting.)  We’ve known for a while that binge drinking is a problem with today’s youth, especially boys (who still report more binge drinking than girls) but 20% of teen girls - that’s cause for alarm!  Here is something else to consider: binge drinking has declined among boys for the past 10 years, yet has remained unchanged for girls over the past 15 years. 

Here is the breakdown of girls by grade level who admitted to binge drinking:

  • 9th grade 45%
  • 10th grade 50%
  • 11th grade 58%
  • 12th grade 62%

Binge drinking is scary business.  That powerful liquid has the ability to transform a life and I don't mean in a good way.  Intoxication can wreck havoc on a person's life and change it permanently, if not fatally.  Alcohol impairs judgment causing the person to do and say things that he or she will later regret.  Oftentimes the person doesn't even remember what was said or done in his or her drunken stupor, but others do.  Which brings up a good question, "Why are teens binging?"

Why are teens binging?

The CDC study confirms that teens aren't sipping alcohol --- no, they’re gulping it.  This study brings light to the fact that high school students tend to binge drink whenever they consume alcohol.  About ninety percent of the alcohol consumed by high school students is consumed through binging.  WOW!  So, why are teens engaging in this dangerous and potentially life altering behavior?

As children move from adolescence to young adulthood, they face major changes not just developmentally, but emotional and physically.  The transition into puberty and adolescence brings about a desire for independence.  Many teens turn to risk taking and experimentation as they navigate through their rite of passage into adulthood, which can lead to drinking. 

 

Many teens don't think there's anything wrong with drinking.  They've made it into an acceptable activity that they engage in when they're out with their friends, and since they may not drink every night, they don't see the potential harm that it's doing.  You see, developmentally teens remain in that imaginary stage that "bad stuff can't happen to me because I am invincible."  But we know it does...  Plus, many teens don't have the ability to see the long-term consequences that drinking can bring.  So, what's the big deal of downing 4 or 5 drinks, right?  Wrong!  Binge drinking is actually extremely dangerous because consuming large amounts of liquid toxin at one time can lead to alcohol poisoning, rape, STDs, coma and the worst case scenario, death...

There are many factors that lead to teen drinking.  If you ask a teen why they drink you may give you a litany of reasons from:

"I was bored."

"Everyone else does it."

"I like how it makes me feel."

"People like me when I drink because I act different."

"I just wanted to see what it would make me feel like."

"My parents do it so it must not be a big deal."

"It helps me escape reality."

Regardless of the reason, teens who drink will tell you that alcohol is readily available and easy to get their hands on.  Whether it's sitting wide open in their parent's liquor cabinet or at a friend's house most teens can find it without much effort.  Which leads to the a real concern: lack of supervision.

Risks Associated with Binging

It is estimated that alcohol consumption is responsible for about 80,000 deaths in the US each year.   

Binge drinking has also been associated with many health problems including:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Cancer
  • Liver Disease
  • Chemical Dependency
  • Pregnancy
  • STDs
  • Alcohol Poisoning


Aside from these risks, studies of MRI scans of the brains of teens who drank heavily showed damaged nerve tissue compared to those who did not.  A young person's brain is still developing well into the twenties and can be harmed by excessive drinking. Studies have shown that alcohol can cause long-term damage to the brain and impair memory, coordination, and movement.  The dangers of binge drinking can far outweigh the benefits of it.  But wait, there aren't any benefits, it's dangerous, it can be life changing, and it can be lethal.  So, what can you do to keep you teen from binging?

What Parents can do...

Parents you have the ability to sway whether or not your teen drinks.  By setting rules and expectations against drinking and consistently enforcing those rules you can deter your teens likelihood of underage drinking.  If you have alcohol in your house, keep it locked up or know how much is in the containers, yes take inventory.  Make sure your teen knows that it is off limits, no ifs, ands, or buts.  Most importantly supervise your teen.  Sure you may feel like you have more control in your house than someone else's, but it's important to know the four essential questions when your teen goes out: where, what, who, and when.

The Four Essential Questions

1.  Where are you going? 

2.  What are you going to be doing?

3.  Who are you going to be with? 

4.  When will you be home? 

 

Conclusion

Alcohol is an easily available drug that is widely promoted throughout society.  Teens engaging in the dangerous behavior of binge drinking are not only putting themselves at risk, they're putting others in jeopardy.  Drunk driving accidents, homicides, suicides and other injuries have been attributed to alcohol use.  Also, teens who begin drinking at an early age have an increased chance of developing an alcohol dependency.  It is crucial that we begin educating our youth about the dangers of alcohol and promoting preventative measures to ensure they understand the serious consequences of alcohol use.  Hopefully, if we all join forces we won't see the alarming statistics that were revealed in the CDC study.

Sources:

http://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/BingeDrinking/

http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/AA67/AA67.htm

 http://www.empoweringparents.com/Teens-Alcohol-and-Binge-Drinking.php#ixzz2IWNp3zyX

Raychelle Cassada Lohmann, M.S., L.P.C., is the author of The Anger Workbook for Teens.

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