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Binge Drinking Numbers Rising!

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

Colleges are gearing up for finals, high school prom and graduation season is underway and the incidences of binge drinking continues to climb.  Why put these topics in the same sentence? Underage and excessive drinking by high school and college students has been recognized as a problem for a long time, but recent studies only confirm that binge drinking continues to rise.  One report from a 2002 task force on drinking stated “abusive drinking by college students is widespread, dangerous and disruptive.”  Drinking excessively is associated with date rape, unintentional sex (is that an oxymoron), violence and poor academic performance.

What is binge drinking? By definition it is drinking “five or more drinks in a row for men, and four or more drinks in a row for women.”  But this definition does not take into account length of time in which the alcohol is consumed or a person’s body weight.

A better definition now defines binge drinking as “a pattern of drinking alcohol that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 percent or above.“ This typically occurs within a two hour window of excessive drinking.

Underage drinkers typically tend to drink on fewer occasions than their older peers but have more alcohol related problems than students of legal drinking age.  Sadly, more than 1,700 college students age 18-24 die each year from unintentional alcohol related injuries and more than 5,000 underage youth die from alcohol misuse.

Another alarming statistic is that an underage youth dies in an alcohol related incident every two hours!

So with these sobering statistics at hand , it is incumbent that parents begin educating their children, even at early ages, about alcohol use and misuse. Our children need to know that alcohol is a legal psychoactive drug that changes brain chemistry and may have long term effects on the still maturing teenage brain.

Alcohol effects both the pre-frontal cortex (the brain’s chief decision maker) and the limbic system.  MRI studies on youth from 14-21 years of age who are frequent (that is scary) alcohol drinkers show definitive changes in both of these areas. Due to the fact that a teen’s brain is still developing, it is surmised that there might be permanent physiologic and psychological damage to an adolescent brain from early alcohol abuse.  There are ongoing studies looking at whether this damage is reversible.

Teens also need to know that while alcohol is a “drug” it too may cause over-dosage and death similar to other drugs. Many teens do not realize that you can die from binge drinking. No, not in a car accident or from falling out of a window, but due to the central nervous system depression from high blood alcohol levels, that then “turn off “ vital areas in the brain resulting in coma and death.

Talk to your teens about the signs of “alcohol over-dosage”, which may include vomiting, cold and clammy skin,  shallow breathing and unresponsiveness.  Letting a friend “sleep it off” after a night of heavy drinking is never the right idea. A good resource for parents to help educate their teens and college students about binge drinking is www.gordie.org. They have recently released an app The Gordie Check that reviews the signs of alcohol poisoning, stores emergency contacts and can help locate nearby medical facilities or call 911.  Pass this on to your college students (and high school students for that matter).

Lastly, as binge drinking continues to rise among high school and college students, and more youth are reporting drinking in their early teens,  it is incumbent that parents discuss their views on underage drinking and also model the behavior they want to see in their children. In other words,  teach your children about responsible drinking when they become of age.

When talking to my teenage patients about alcohol they often comment to  me “ Dr. Sue why don’t you talk to my parents about coming home drunk” and then they can talk to me!  Truer words could not be spoken.

That’s your daily dose for today. We’ll chat again tomorrow.

Send your question or comment to Dr. Sue!

Related Posts on www.kidsdr.com

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