– Robert Margolis, Ph.D., clinical psychologist
Binge drinking is considered to be a rite of passage for teenagers across the country. “I drank a liter of tequila in an hour, and I went to this pizza place, and I passed out in the parking lot. I woke up the next morning,” remembers Cleophus Randolph, a 22-year-old college student.
Suzanne Graham had a similar experience: “This summer I went kind of crazy, the summer after senior year, I passed out in someone’s backyard. It was not good, and I was throwing up pretty heavily the next day and all that night.”
The consequences can range from sickness to far worse — “where they don’t get a second chance because they get alcohol poisoning. Their heart rate and their body metabolism slows down and, for whatever reason, they don’t recover from it. If you drink enough alcohol you die,” explains Dr. Robert Margolis, clinical psychologist.
His advice is to set clear boundaries for your children. Tell them what to expect, teach them how to say no, and, most of all, start early. He says middle school is the perfect time. “Those are the years when you really need to start talking about those messages, so you can help them form appropriate expectations about drinking, particularly in regard to important issues like, you can be accepted without having to drink.”
Dr. Margolis empathizes with parents who feel they’re standing alone against a part of the culture that believes teenage drinking is inevitable. “There’s this idea that drinking, getting drunk, being a part of a group, that we’re all gonna go out and get drunk, is somehow a part of our growing up, and everybody’s going to do it.”
And, sadly every year some kids die — an estimated 1,400 students die from alcohol related causes. Another 500,000 suffer serious injuries. In fact, getting “wasted” is so common that some kids even think it’s funny, like 18-year-old Jason Morgan: “I’ve had friends just outside the door, heaving. It wasn’t bad, it was a good time for most, and entertaining for the sober people to laugh at them, so it was pretty fun.”
Tips for Parents
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
Harvard School of Public Health
National Youth Violence Prevention Center