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Binge drinking by teens is no party

Binge drinking is as much a part of many students’ college lives as pulling all-nighters before tests. Pre-teens and high schoolers are getting drunk as well. What is a parent to do?

by Rima Himelstein, M.D.

What is binge drinking? It is a frenzy of drinking that brings a person's blood alcohol content (BAC) to at least 0.08 as a percentage of total blood volume. This generally equates to about five or more drinks in two hours for men and four or more drinks in two hours for women.

A teenager's reality can become a nightmare:

  1. Failing grades. Alcohol use is associated with a decline in academic performance. On average, college students with grades of 'D's or 'F's drink three times as much as those who earn 'A's.

  2. Sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancies. Alcohol use lowers inhibitions and impairs judgment, increasing the risk of unprotected sex.

  3. Accidental injuries. Drinking alcohol raises the risk of accidents such as car crashes, falls, burns and drowning. There are about 1,700 alcohol-related deaths a year among college students.

  4. Intentional injuries. Alcohol consumption increases the risk of violence towards others or themselves—including sexual assault, homicide and suicide.

  5. Alcohol poisoning. A potentially fatal physical reaction to an alcohol overdose, alcohol poisoning starves the brain of oxygen and shuts down the vital functions that regulate breathing and heart rate. Symptoms are vomiting; clammy, pale or bluish skin; slow breathing; and unconsciousness.

  1. 34 percent were insulted by binge drinkers

  2. 13 percent were assaulted by binge drinkers

  3. 54 percent had to take care of a drunk student

  4. 68 percent were interrupted by binge drinkers while studying

  5. 26 percent of women said they were the target of unwanted sexual advances by binge drinkers

What can we as parents do?

  1. If binge drinking has already become an issue, encourage children to take advantage of counselors and therapists at all school levels.

  2. Start talking with pre-teens about the risks of alcohol use.

  3. Don't allow underage drinking at home or anywhere else — including at parties or at friends' homes.

  4. If you drink alcohol, drink responsibly; your kids learn from your behavior.

Do you suspect your child is binge drinking? How are you handling it?

Rima Himelstein, M.D., is a Crozer-Keystone Health System pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist.