The Underage Drinking Epidemic

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OUR TEENS ARE FINDING NEW—AND MORE DANGEROUS—WAYS TO BINGE THAN EVER BEFORE.

This is part of an article found in our Houston Chronicle Parade and it had previously been published in The Times by Emily Litchfield.  Coming right behind the article on “Monster Energy Drinks” I decided to pick up the banner on the growing concern for our teens.

It started with a story about a disoriented call a family’s received from their teen on campus. This was this family’s wakeup call to “Jungle Juice”.  They had never heard of the potentially lethal concoction of a syrupy mix of hard liquors and fruit juices, it often includes Everclear, whose alcohol content can as high as 190 proofs.  Some kids throw in energy drinks for good measure.  There are dozens of recipes on-line from ”Suicide in a Kettle to Trash Punch” to assist the drinking teens.

Drinking in college is nothing new. Kegs and watered-down beer have long been as much a part of the campus experience as trying to avoid early morning classes. It’s not exactly unheard of for teens in high school and even middle school to sneak into their parents’ liquor cabinets. However, what is new—and increasingly alarming to those on the front lines—is the growing trend of extreme underage drinking.

“We’re seeing kids coming in with blood alcohol levels in the mid-.3s, even .4, which is four to five times the legal limit for driving. That’s the level at which 50 percent of people die,” says Dr. Mary Claire O’Brien, an emergency room physician and professor at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in North Carolina who specializes in alcohol-related research. “Ten years ago, we saw those levels only in people who were chronic alcoholics.”

Adolescents tend to drink differently from adults. Their goal is not to sit around enjoying a glass of wine or two over the course of an evening. Rather, for many teens, the point is to get as drunk as possible, as quickly and cheaply as possible, in part to reduce the social anxiety epidemic at that age. Unfortunately, there are now more— and more dangerous—ways to accomplish this than ever before. The rising practice of mixing alcohol with super-caffeinated energy drinks; the marketing of fruit-flavored malt beverages in 23.5-ounce cans, each containing the equivalent alcohol of close to five beers; a shift in preference away from beer to hard liquor; and the influence of social media have raised the stakes.

If you think it can’t happen to your kids, think again. According to the CDC, about 90% of all teen alcohol consumption occurs in the form of binge drinking, which, experts say, peaks at age 19. Forty-one percent of 12th graders report having had a drink in the previous 30 days, and by the time, kids are in college that number climbs to 72%. Approximately 200,000 adolescents visit emergency rooms each year for drinking-related incidents, and an estimated 1,700 college students die. “Underage drinking doesn’t discriminate.”

As outrage grew, the FDA stepped in, and last year effectively ordered the makers of four brands, including PHUSION, which sells the cult favorite Four Loko, (referred to as liquid cocaine) to remove the caffeine. Four Loko was reformulated and is now back on the market. The sweetened beverage no longer contains caffeine, but each 23.5-ounce can has the alcohol equivalent of four to five beers. (Four beers for a female and five for a male over a two-hour period are considered binge-drinking.) Its popularity shows no signs of abating. YouTube alone has more than 5,000 videos extolling Four Loko, a.k.a. “Blackout in a Can.” There are rap songs glorifying it.

I can go into the preference of shots and the low-cost of getting high instead of doing drugs, but do I really have to?  In my last article, “Monster Energy Drinks” I spoke of the long-term damage or death so I will not repeat this again, instead I will pass on the suggestions to parents as part of keeping it true to the article.

WHAT PARENTS CAN DO:

1       Know the Warning Signs. Signs of extreme drinking include a drop in grades, change in behavior and mood, a change in friends, memory lapses, and difficulty concentrating.

2       Open a Dialogue. Ask your kids what kinds of experiences they’re having, make your personal values clear, and calmly lay out the risks. Studies have found that parents who combine clear expectations of accountability with support and warmth have more success in curbing binge drinking than either strictly authoritarian or overly indulgent parents.

3       Establish a Code Word. Before your kids go out, agree on a phrase they can say if they are in an uncomfortable situation and need to give you a signal to come get them right away, no questions asked.

4       If You Tell Your Kids Just One Thing, Make It This … “If someone has been drinking Jungle Juice or doing shots in a short amount of time, their blood alcohol level can continue to rise dangerously after they appear to fall asleep,” Dr. O’Brien points out. This is how kids die. “Tell your kids: If you can’t rouse someone, call 911. The worst that can happen is you’ll be embarrassed or your parents will get angry. Nevertheless, the alternative is far worse. We all know kids make mistakes. Unfortunately, some mistakes can’t be fixed.”

We send children to school for a higher education as in colleges and universities.  America is concerned about how low we are in the education realm compared to other countries.  My personal question remains; what do we expect them to learn if they have scrambled their brain?  Remember, the quote from “Forest Gump” – “Stupid is as Stupid Does.”  We certainly have reason for concern.

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