What is it about alcohol that draws teens in? Is the lure of a good time or the making of drunken memories that appeals to them? Maybe it is the inhibition or the idea of forbidden fruit that accounts for it. Whatever it is about drinking beer and hard liquor that appeals to teens, many of the young people who like to party today will be tomorrow’s alcoholics.
Underage drinking is more than just a parent’s nightmare; it’s something the U.S Surgeon General deems a public health concern. Today, alcohol is the most commonly abused drug among those under the age of 21. It beats out party drugs like ecstasy, cigarette smoking and even recreational marijuana use. Each year, alcohol takes 4,300 hundred of these young lives as its reward.
You might automatically assume the major risk factor is drunk driving, but binge drinking is a top concern when it comes to teens and alcohol consumption. Binge drinking is a precursor to alcoholism. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention reports 90 percent of the alcohol consumed by teenagers falls under the category of binge drinking, so teens are at risk of addiction.
How Much are Teens Drinking?
Society’s awareness of addiction is improving, so teens are more cognizant of the risks. Social norms regarding alcohol have changed, as well. There are advertising standards in place that prevent targeting teens with ads about drinking. Responsible drinking campaigns are common in all media formats.
While that may have worked to improve awareness, it hasn’t eliminated the problem. A 2013 survey conducted by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found:
-Thirty-five percent of high school students have drank alcohol at some point
-Twenty-one percent admit to binge drinking
-Ten percent have driven after drinking
-Twenty-two percent have ridden in a car driven by someone who had been drinking
Those numbers are up from the previous year, proving that the efforts to reduce teen consumption are largely ineffective. There is enough education in place to tell them all the reasons they should not drink, but they still do and some to excess.
What is the Effect of Teen Drinking?
There are side effects of drinking at this age, whether it is occasional use, binging or addiction. Underage drinking increases the risk of:
-Abuse of other drugs
Alcohol poisoning is a concern at this age because binge drinking is more prevalent. An overdose of alcohol occurs when a person digests enough of the drug in a short period of time to interfere with the core body functions. Alcohol depresses the nervous system. When ingested in large quantities, it can suppress breathing. It also dampens the gag reflex, allowing a person to choke on vomit or breathe it into the lungs.
There is no way to know who is at risk for alcohol poisoning, but there are symptoms to watch for:
Low body temperature
What is Binge Drinking?
Binge drinking refers to a pattern of alcohol abuse, measured by the number of drinks. It varies by gender:
Males – Five or more drinks in a row
Females – Four or more drinks in a row
This is not about sipping four drinks over a 24-hour period, but downing the drinks one after another in a just a few hours. The problem isn’t limited to teens, either. The CDC estimates that 38 million adults binge drink at least four times a month.
Binge drinking is more common in teens, possibly because they have limited access to alcohol, so they take advantage when they can drink. Teen parties tend to emphasize the wonder of drinking and the beauty of “getting wasted.” There is a substantial amount of peer pressure at this age to try alcohol, as well.
Teens don’t always think beyond the party to the bad side of over indulgence.
A good night binge drinking often inspires them to drink even more.
Binge drinkers are not necessarily alcoholics, but they are on the right path. It is a pattern of alcohol abuse that often leads to addiction. Addiction is based on chronic use and changes in the brain. The neurotoxic effects of binge drinking can bring about the changes that lead to alcoholism. With full dependency on a drug, you experience cravings and are unable to control your urge to drink.
How Parents Can Recognize Binge Drinking Teens
For parents, the first step in controlling binge drinking is to recognize it exists. Once you know your child drinks, you can try to influence that behavior. Warning signs include:
Teens who avoid answering questions about what they have been doing
Frequent plans to sleepover at a friend’s house
Decrease in grades
Decrease in school activities such as clubs or sports
Obvious signs of hangover or regular bouts of the flu
If you do suspect your teen is binge drinking, it is time for a conversation.
Confront the teen about the drinking – Teens probably think you are blind to the fact that they drink, so telling them you know may come as a surprise. Instead of forbidding them to drink or acting disappointed, tell your teen what you expect. You are giving your son or daughter a chance to act like an adult and correct a behavior problem.
Set clear rules regarding alcohol use – You may even allow it small doses under supervision. This is known as controlled exposure.
Help your teen find other things to do for fun – There is nothing wrong with a little distraction. Instead of going to a party, ask the teen to see a movie with you and give them a chance to take part in another activity. Help your child to connect with people who don’t drink at the same time.
Talk to them about the dangers of binge drinking – Kids know more today about alcoholism as a disease than they did even 10 years ago. If you show them hard proof that binge drinking increases the risk of alcoholism, you might scare them enough to make an impact.
What to Do If Your Child has a Drinking Problem?
Not all teen binge drinkers are alcoholics, but some will have an addiction. Alcoholics don’t always realize the effect their addiction has on the people they love. That is the basis of interventions. You gather a group of friends and family together, so they can tell the teen exactly how scared they are and how the drinking hurts them.
Part of intervention is having a plan in place. Do your research before having this conversation with your teen. Talk about your pain, because, ultimately, kids want to please their parents. Knowing that his or her drinking problem hurts you may be enough to inspire change.If possible, bring an intervention specialist to manage the meeting, as well. They know all the tips and tricks to getting a teen to understand the problem and agree to rehabilitation.
Be supportive as a family. Addiction comes with a lot of baggage, especially at this young age. The teen may feel guilty that they let you down or be embarrassed by the attention. Your job is to provide a loving atmosphere that is not judgmental or accusatory. Your goal is the get help for your child not degrade or hurt.
Be the kind of parent your kids can talk, too. That way, if they suspect they have a problem or see it in a friend or sibling, they have a place to go with their concerns. You probably cannot stop your teen from binge drinking at least once. What you can do is try to prevent a pattern of abuse that may lead to adult alcoholism and drug abuse.