One beer, two beers, three beers – what’s the harm in one more?
Binge drinking is becoming increasingly common among teenagers in what appears to be a relaxed society, where parents are even allowing their children to drink at home.
The Center for Disease Control estimates about 90 percent of all teenage alcohol consumption occurs in the form of binge drinking, which is categorized as the heavy consumption of alcohol over a period of several hours, or even several days.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, by age 18, more than 70 percent of teens have had at least one drink. Twenty percent of those began drinking by age 13.
As more and more teenagers are willing to take that first “innocent” sip, very few of them stop to consider the dangers.
One Marana 17-year-old said she learned the dangers of binge drinking the hard way. The high school senior* described a night out with a guy that started out as a simple date.
“We were with his friends, and his friend convinced me to take my first sip,” she says. “I gave in and eventually blacked out, and I was throwing up. I don’t remember this happening. I remember waking up in the emergency room not knowing where I was.”
After coming to, her parents told her she was left unconscious on their front porch in critical condition.
“I was close to dying,” she said.
Unfortunately, said Adam Goldberg, captain of the Northwest Fire District, these calls have become too common. Emergency calls involve either a person passed out at a party or abandoned at their parents’ home. Sometimes, the inebriated or often ill teen is left at the local emergency room.
The problem with these cases is that parents, paramedics and ER doctors have no idea what kind of or how much alcohol was consumed.
“Playing a guessing game makes the situation that much more dangerous,” said Goldberg. “The other issue is when teenagers are on site, many of them are not truthful or just don’t know what their friend had.”
As a paramedic, Goldberg said the dangers of teen drinking are endless, especially when something goes wrong.
“The alcohol slows down the entire body, and the ability to make good decisions is lost,” he said. “If someone passes out, or there is an emergency, no one knows what to do.”
The teenager quoted above notes police questioned her after leaving the hospital. The police were worried she may have been assaulted while intoxicated.
With fears of their children drinking and driving, being left ill at a party, or being abandoned at the hospital or on a dark porch, many parents are starting to allow their teenagers to consume alcohol at home.
One parent said she is focusing on the safety factor. The mother of a 17-year-old local student said her daughter’s first drink was with her.
“I don’t do it to party with her,” the mother said. “First of all, it doesn’t happen that frequently, and there are safety issues to consider. It means she’s not out with her friends drinking and driving, and it helps me see her tolerance level. I can teach her to know what her limitations are.”
Goldberg said while he understands the parents’ desire to keep their children safe, he disagrees with the ideology of allowing underage kids to drink alcohol – ever.
“As parents we know teens are young adults who are curious,” he said. “Parents believe that with adult supervision it won’t get out of control. The thought process being no one drives – no one gets hurt. But, these parents can’t always control everything that happens, especially after these teenagers leave.”
The need for more
One of the biggest factors of binge drinking is that a large percentage of teenagers become repeat offenders, and drift into abusing other illegal substances.
According to the federal government’s Centers for Disease Control, “Most underage youth who drink, report binge drinking on multiple occasions.”
Binge drinking is the consumption of four or more drinks, or the equivalent.
Several teenagers in local school districts admitted to The Explorer to not only drinking regularly, but also smoking marijuana and cigarettes and taking prescription pills.
Seventeen-year-old Katryna says she started drinking at age 14. She adds it didn’t take long to become addicted to prescription meds, cocaine and methamphetamines.
“I first started drinking because I saw my mom drinking,” Katryna said. “I asked for a sip, and after that I just kept asking. It turned from sips to gulps. Then, I started getting drunk off of any type of alcohol.”
Katryna describes a vicious cycle of pills and alcohol. The teenager says for the first five months of her senior year, she drank every day. She stayed drunk all day, drinking anything from flavored vodka to gin, whisky and jager.
However, alcohol soon became secondary to Katryna.
“I used to get prescribed pain pills for my back because I constantly had kidney infections,” she said. “I just started getting high off of them. Then I noticed people who looked like I did when I was high, and they asked for pills. So, I would get them.”
When Katryna was approaching her 16th birthday, she admitted that ecstasy, heroin, meth and pills landed her in rehab.
“My mom found my meth pipe, foils with heroin tracks on them, straws and my baggies full of pills,” she said. “That was it, I needed help.”
Time to intervene
Katryna’s use of prescription meds and alcohol is a disturbing trend local authorities are working to stop.
“This has become a national epidemic,” says Shawn Benjamin of the Oro Valley Police Department. “This is a deadly combination that has taken the lives of many young people nationwide. The medicine cabinet is the new area drug dealer.”
In 2009, 2.6 million teenagers reported using a controlled substance recreationally, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The misuse of pain pills doubled among teenagers between 2004 and 2008.
While the illegal use of prescription drugs is on the rise, the CDC reports alcohol is still the most abused drug among teenagers in the United States.
Almost 11 percent of all alcohol consumed is by underage youths between the ages of 12 and 20.
At one time, a teen’s drink of choice was beer. Now, they are experimenting more with energy drinks mixed with caffeine and alcohol.
When alcoholic beverages are mixed with energy drinks, a popular practice among youth, the caffeine in these drinks can mask the depressant effects of the alcohol.
Drinkers who consume alcohol mixed with energy drinks are three times more likely to binge drink than drinkers who do not report mixing alcohol with energy drinks.
According to the CDC, binge drinking is associated with unintentional injuries such as car crashes, falls, burns and drowning. Intentional injuries include firearm injuries, sexual assault and domestic violence.
Other issues associated with binge drinking includes alcohol poisoning, sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancy, high blood pressure, stroke, liver disease, neurological damage, sexual dysfunction and poor control of diabetes.
Parents who suspect a teenager may be abusing alcohol or drugs do have places to turn. Parents can log on to http://local.soberecovery.com/Alcohol_Rehab_for_Teens. The Website lists all local rehabilitation facilities.
Students wishing to seek help can turn to a guidance counselor inside the local school district for help.
• 90 percent of all teenage alcohol consumption is in the form of binge drinking.
• Excessive alcohol consumption is responsible for 79,00 deaths and
2.3 million years of potential life lost each year.
• Most underage youths who report binge drinking usually have done it on multiple occasions.
Stats provided by the Center for Disease Control
*Editor’s note: Names were excluded throughout the article to protect the privacy of those interviewed due to the sensitive topic.
Students in other school districts also were surveyed; however, none responded to The Explorer's questions.