Opinion

Have you talked to your teen about binge drinking?

Chris Harnish
Island Forum

Drinking games have been around for decades on college campuses. Some of the more popular games include: landmines, quarters, beer pong and power hour. Also common among young people are dares or challenges to drink shots of hard alcohol or to rapidly consume beers using a funnel or “beer bong.” What some parents might not be aware of is that these high-risk drinking games are gaining popularity with the high-school-age crowd.

A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 45 percent of high school students surveyed reported using alcohol within the last month. Of those, 64 percent reported binge drinking. Binge drinking is defined as ingesting large amounts of alcohol in a short amount of time, with the goal of getting drunk. For males this would be five or more drinks in a row and four or more drinks in a row for females.

For many teens and young adults, fun with their friends means drinking alcohol, often to excess. In the course of these drinking episodes the participants lose track of how much they are drinking, and the potential risks and consequences remain unseen to them in the midst of the fun and competition. All too frequently, this type of drinking behavior contributes to arrests, accidents, date rapes and hospital emergency room visits. Alcohol poisoning is another all-too-common consequence which can result in death.

In addition to these immediate consequences of heavy drinking, recent research on adolescent brain development has determined that permanent damage from regular binge drinking can occur in young people. The adolescent brain is more vulnerable than the adult brain to the neurotoxic effects of alcohol. Damage to the areas of the brain that regulate functions such as learning and memory can be severely affected by heavy drinking.

Alcohol problems tend to start during adolescence and young adulthood. It may take only five to fifteen months for a teen to become an alcoholic unlike adults where it may take five to ten years for the addiction to manifest itself. Identifying and intervening with teens that are beginning to engage in binge drinking is critical before more significant patterns of alcohol abuse and dependency begin to develop.

Below are some of the warning signs or symptoms that might indicate a young person is developing a problem with alcohol:

  • Abuse of alcohol, drinking to get drunk

  • Increased tolerance

  • Continued use of alcohol despite past consequences with parents, police, or school officials

  • Blacking out - a period of total memory loss while drinking

  • Lying about drinking

  • Frequent hangovers

    For more information about binge drinking, its impact on teens and what families can do to make a difference, please join Mercer Island High School parents and other concerned community members on Thursday, March 1st at 7pm at Mercer Island High School for a community forum featuring Chris and Toren Volkmann, authors of From Binge to Blackout: A Mother and Son Struggle with Teen Drinking. The Volkmanns’ book details the warning signals they missed as alcohol and drugs invaded the “perfect American family.”

    If you have concerns that your teen is abusing alcohol or other drugs contact Chris Harnish at Mercer Island Youth and Family Services for help at (206) 236-3363.

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