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December 18, 2015
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Anatomy Of Underage Drinking

An inside look at the sobering reality of kids and alcohol.
It’s everywhere—at family birthdays and holiday parties,sporting events and at dinner tables across the country. Society’s message is clear:
Alcohol is safe, affordable and socially acceptable.Given its widespread use, it’s not surprising that alcoholis the most popular drug amongmiddle school and high school kids. Nearly three-quarters of U.S. high school seniors and more than one-third of eighth graders have consumed alcohol, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).“Alcohol is killing more kids than illicit and legal drugsput together,” says JohnLieberman, director of operations at Visions Adolescent Treatment Centers in Southern California.When kids drink, it puts them at an increased risk of injury, suicide, homicide, sexualassault, infectious diseases, unwanted pregnancies and carcrashes. The U.S. Centers forDisease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that80,000 deaths occur each year fromexcessive drinking, and millions of people visit emergency rooms or are hospitalized due to alcohol-related conditions.
I used to get drunk and smoke pot every weekend when I was a kid and I turned out okay.”
Despite the sobering statistics, many parents view underage drinking as a rite of passage into adulthood and adopt a casual, permissive attitude about it. Today’s generation ofparents is the largest population of substance-abusing parents in U.S. history, says DavidRosenker, director of business development for FoundationsRecovery Network in Philadelphia.“They are significantly under-reactive to alcohol abuse because they used so much when they were a kid or in college, that they don’t see it as a major issue,” he says.Instead of projecting their own experiences onto their kids, parents need to educate themselves and take an objective view of the real dangers of substance abuse.
“I was looking for a bigger buzz, so I took my dad’s Violin and my friend’s Adderall, and then I had a few beers at the party.”
While alcohol poses serious health risks by itself, the dangers increase dramatically when it’s combined with other drugs. School-age kids are experimenting with a wide array of drugs from pain medication and amphetamines, to marijuana and heroin, sometimes taking a number of them simultaneously and washing them down with alcohol.“Nobody knows what the reaction is going to be and it v
 aries from kid to kid,” says Rosenker. “In some kids, it’s toxic and they get sicker than a dog. In other kids, it’s fatal.”
With the skyrocketing use of prescription drugs across thecountry, kids now have easy access to these dangerous medications by simply opening up their parents’ medicinecabinets. Over-the-counter cold and cough medicines, such as Ny quil, are also popularamong kids because they contain large amounts of alcohol and other potent drugs.Drinking cough syrup, such as Robitussin or other cold medicines, to get intoxicated isoften referred to as “Robotripping.”Mixing alcohol with energy drinks, such as Red Bull, Rock star or Monster Energy,enables kids to drink more alcohol in less time. Because caffeine hypes kids up, they don’t recognize the warning signs of drinking too much, making them three times more likely to binge drink than those who do not mix alcohol and energy drinks, or other stimulants.
Another shocking trend is the extent young people will go to not only get drunk, but tohide the fact that they’re doing it. Kids have been knownto do everything from soaktampons in alcohol and then insert them vaginally and/oranally, to consuming vodka-infused gummy bears and candy.
“We were all doing shots and playing quarters when I just passed out.”
Most teenagers don’t stop at one or two drinks—they drink to get drunk. According toLieberman, 50 to 70 percent of high schoolers will have abinge drinking experience.“The problem is, that experience could be lethal,” he says.Binge drinking means consuming four to five drinks in a two-hour period and is typically repeated multiple times. The CDC estimates that about90 percent of the alcoholconsumed by underage kids occurs during binge drinking.Alcohol has the potential to damage every vital organ in the body, especially thedeveloping brain of adolescents. Research shows that binge drinking affects a person’sbrain functioning long after the hangover wears off, withthe potential to impact memory learning, decision-making and motor skills.While all teenagers are at risk of brain damage from binge drinking, girls appear to be more vulnerable to the long-term harmful effects than males of the same age, according to a recent study from the University of California, San Diego and Stanford University.Women are more susceptible to the effects of alcohol,due in part to their slowermetabolic rate, higher body-fat ratio and lower average weight, as well as hormonaldifferences. Men, on the other hand, tend to drink more excessively than women and aremore likely to die from alcohol-related causes, especially drunk driving.On college campuses across the country, binge drinking runs rampant. Eighteen to 20-year-olds represent the largest proportion of binge drinkersin the U.S., according to the CDC.“Parents look the other way,” says Lieberman. “Kids go off to college and they’re basically told, ‘You can drink, just don’t get into trouble doing it.’ Even though it’s illegal.With binge drinking, comes the increased risk of alcohol poisoning, which occurs when blood alcohol levels reach dangerously high levels. Signsof alcohol poisoning include depressed breathing, loss of consciousness, coma and death.Fearful of getting in trouble
with parents or the police, kids may decide to leave a drunk friend passed out on the bed to “just sleep it off,” sometimes with tragic consequences.
By// Angela Ambrose
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