When you picture a young person taking shots of liquor or guzzling beers, you’re likely to think of a young adult, maybe of college age. But children are now drinking heavier amounts of alcohol at a younger age.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), two out three high school students who drink, binge drink. In fact, the CDC states that about 90 percent of the alcohol consumed by youth under the age of 21 in the United States is in the form of binge drinking. The proportion of current drinkers that binge drink is highest in the 18- to 20-year-old age range at 51 percent.
So what exactly is binge drinking? The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines it as a period of drinking that brings the drinker’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or more. For guys, being a binge drinker occurs when they drink five or more alcoholic beverages in a short period of time. For girls, it only takes four or more drinks in a short time to constitute as binge drinking.
Binge drinking doesn’t necessarily mean someone has any type of alcohol dependency, but it can lead to a plethora of health problems and/or injuries. The CDC explains that binge drinking can lead to unintentional injuries (car crashes, falls, burns or drowning), intentional injuries (firearm injuries, sexual assault or domestic violence), alcohol poisoning, sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancy, children born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, high blood pressure, stroke or liver disease - among other problems and conditions.
A new study out of the University of Cincinnati, shows evidence that binge drinking could even lead to brain damage for youth, as the brain continues to develop until the mid-20s. A doctoral student used high-resolution brain scans in his study on a sample of 29 weekend binge drinkers who were between 18-25 years old. The study found that binge-drinking was linked to cortical-thinning of the pre-frontal cortex, the section of the brain related to executive functioning, which includes paying attention, planning and making decisions, processing emotions and controlling impulses leading to irrational behavior.
These long-term risks, as well as short-term risks - vomiting, loss of sensory-perception, poor decision-making and alcohol-related injuries - can ruin young students’ educations, future careers and lives. Also, binge drinking results in more than 79,000 deaths in the United States every year.
Remember that binge drinking is a dangerous behavior that is very common. Remind your teen kids to be safe by staying sober. Also, remember that underage drinking is against the law - any time, anywhere and for anyone who is under the age of 21. To help prevent underage drinking and protect the public, Tennessee enacted a Social Host Liability Law in 2009. Under this law, adults who allow underage drinking in their homes or at social gatherings they host can face fines and jail time, and be held liable if an underage drinker is killed or injured, or kills or injures another person.
One way to help our community prevent substance abuse in youth is to join in the efforts of the Blount County Substance Abuse Prevention Action Team. For more information, call the Blount Memorial Foundation and Community Outreach at 865-977-5727, or visit the Blount County Community Health Initiative’s website at www.blounthealth.org.
Jessica Stith is the project manager for the Blount Memorial Foundation and Community Outreach.