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Kids and alcohol: A dangerous mix
January 14, 2013 - Betsy Bethel
Let me start by saying I'm lucky to be alive. Most of us are. When we look back on the follies — OK, downright stupidity — of our youth, you sometimes have to wonder how some of us made the thinning-of-the-herd cut.
But now I'm all grown up, I have seen tragedy strike too many times, I have a better knowledge of how our bodies and brains work, and I now understand how dangerous certain things can be.
Binge drinking, for instance.
(Full disclosure: I serve as a volunteer on the Ohio County Substance Abuse Prevention Coaltion, one of the main purposes of which is "to prevent and reduce substance abuse with youth and families in Ohio County.")
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines binge drinking as having, if you're a woman, four or more alcoholic drinks — five or more if you're a man — in a two- to three-hour span. So, for instance, if you watch an NFL game with friends and you drink a six-pack of beer, you're a binge drinker. Or if you go out for dinner and dancing with friends and consume alcohol along the way, that may qualify. If you're a teenager or college student who drinks "to get drunk," you are binge drinking. Kids don't drink in moderation. In fact, 90 percent of the alcohol youth drink is downed during binge drinking episodes, a 2012 CDC Vital Signs report on binge drinking states.
Disturbingly but not surprisingly, a new CDC Vital Signs study out this month reports that one in five high school girls binge drinks.* That's 20 percent of our teen daughters.
Why do we care? "Kids will be kids," people might say. Or, they say, "We did it and we survived. What's the big deal?"
As adults, we need to change the way we think about binge drinking and our kids. There is a perception that it is not harmful. That perception is false. Why should we care? Because binge drinking can kill our kids. The CDC says binge drinking causes the deaths of 23,000 women and girls a year. Last year's Vital Signs report on binge drinking — which includes females and males — reports that binge drinking causes 80,000 deaths a year. To compare, how many were killed by guns? In 2009, the most recent year final numbers CDC has available, 31,347 people died from shootings in the U.S.
Alcohol abuse also leads to violence, including sexual violence. Perpetrators of sexual assault, in fact, are under the influence of alcohol in approximately half of all violent crimes, including sexual assault, according to a December 2008 report by the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, VAWnet.org.
And when teen girls or young women drink, they "cannot effectively resist an assault. Some women have been raped when they are unconscious from alcohol consumption. Predatory men look for vulnerable women to rape, and drinking women are often viewed as sexually available," the same report states.
And here's a shocker: "Research demonstrates that intoxicated individuals don’t make good decisions. They tend to focus on short-term positive rewards and ignore long-term negative consequences. Once they start a line of action they have a difficult time stopping. They also tend to respond more aggressively" (from the same report).
Long-term consequences can include death and prison, as well as sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancies.
Bottom line: When our teenagers drink, they basically are playing Russian roulette. They are toying with their lives and the lives of those around them. So, why do adults STILL turn a blind eye, say "kids will be kids"? Why do they still let kids drink in their basements? Do we let our kids party in our basements with loaded guns and say, "Sure, go ahead and fire away. We all did it. We'll be upstairs if anyone needs us." Of course not. But children who drink alcohol can get hurt or die from their actions — even under their own roofs or with people we trust. It HAS happened right here in the Ohio Valley. It happened, for instance, in August 2012 in Steubenville and in 2008 in Moundsville.
"Intoxicated individuals don't make good decisions." And some can't make decisions at all, depending on how intoxicated they are.
Last Wednesday night, HLN’s Dr. Drew Pinsky said during a segment he aired on the Steubenville rape case: “I simply cannot say this enough. Every time something bad happens to our young people …you find drugs or alcohol. Whether it is an unwanted pregnancy, unwanted sexual contact, an STD, an accident, a fight — whatever it is — look for alcohol, because it's always there."
We have to start acknowledging this connection before more kids get hurt. Our children deserve our protection. If you turn a blind eye when your teen binge drinks, you are taking his or her life in your hands, as well as the lives of others — children and adults.
What can we do? Where do we start? Well, we are more powerful than we think. Research shows the risks decrease with better laws and better enforcement of them, as well as education. Find out more about community prevention here. Local counties also have substance abuse prevention coalitions in place. Links to their websites can be found in the right-hand column of this page. Contact them to see how you can help.
If we continue to stand by and do nothing, we have no one to blame but ourselves.
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* It's important to remember that four out of five high school girls DON'T binge drink. You can tell your kids that when they say "everyone is doing it."
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