Back to school – high school, college or university is an exciting time for parents and our sons and daughters. It is a form of a rite of passage, of leaving home, of venturing forth in our society. It is an opportunity for higher learning both academically and socially. A time to learn to be independent, self-disciplined and responsible, while still having lots of fun. Many parents and schools are very concerned about how to teach students before they leave home to curb overconsumption of alcohol and reduce the associated dangers.
Many teenagers and young adults love to binge drink by ‘running shots’ or playing drinking games like ‘Beer Pong ‘ ‘Flip Cup ’ or enjoying a kegger. For those with an aversion to the taste of beer or most liquor choose vodka in coolers or shots to ingest often lethal amounts of alcohol. Whether it is at a party where parents are not home or at a bar that turns a blind eye to fake ID, drinking has become an ‘extreme sport’ for many teenagers and young adults. This is a great worry for parents who feel they have no control while their kids live at home and an even greater concern when away at college or university at a younger age than ever before.
Researchers define “binge drinking” as consuming too many standard drinks for the body to process adequately. (A standard drink =one beer, 5 oz of wine, 1.5 oz of liquor). According to the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (www.CAMH.ca), too much alcohol consumption for males is more than 5 and for females that is 4 drinks on one occasion. Alcohol metabolizes more quickly in women and typically women have less body mass. The body takes one hour to process one standard drink. This rate is constant, so the only way to get sober is to wait.
Young people who binge drink are especially at risk. They are less familiar with the effects of alcohol, and because their brains are not yet fully formed, they lack the judgement and tend to be more impulsive and therefore they are more apt to take risks. (To read more about the teen brain click here.)
The Prevalence of Teen and Young Adult Binge Drinking:
- 22% of Ontario students in grades 7-12 binge drink at least once a month
- 30% of Canadians aged 15-19 binge drink 12 or more times a year
- 41% of Canadians aged 20-24 binge drink 12 or more times a year
- Binge drinking is higher for males than female
The Risks to Safety and Health of Binge Drinking:
Intoxication reduces good judgement, results in less inhibition and slows reflexes, so that people are more reckless and careless.
- Misjudging a situation and what is being said
- Quick to anger and getting into a fight or being assaulted
- Having unwanted sex or forcing another to have unwanted sex
- Developing or worsening depression, anxiety, bi-polar or other mental health problems
- Seeing suicide as a way out of problems when feeling down
- Having blackouts (Loss of memory or where you were and what you did when drunk)
- Getting a hangover (headache, shakes, vomiting)
- Getting injured or killed while driving (or as a passenger), biking, boating, walking
- Getting sick, going into a coma or dying from alcohol poisoning
- Choking on your own vomit and dying
- Going into respiratory arrest (you stop breathing)
Over a longer term, repeated binge drinking can also increase the risk of:
- damage to your stomach, pancreas, liver and brain
- developing cancer
- developing an addiction to alcohol.
Tips for Parents with Teens at Home to Prepare them before they leave for University or College
1. Accept that exposure to or participation in binge drinking is a fact of life for most teens and young adults. Therefore, discuss the health and safety issues so as to reduce the risks listed above. Check out Drink Smart a not-for-profit organization funded by Smart Serve Ontario promotes responsible drinking to college and university students. www.drinksmart.ca
2. Become informed about these risks and your own attitudes toward drinking. Many parents are very permissive, minimize the harm and see it as a natural part of growing up. Ask yourself basic questions about the frequency and amounts of your own alcohol consumption habits you are role modeling. (Canada’s low-risk healthy guidelines recommend less than 10 drinks per week for women, with no more than 2 drinks a day most days with some days of abstinence each week and 15 drinks a week for men, with no more than 3 drinks a day most days with some days of abstinence each week.)
3. Ensure that your teen does not drink and drive or get into a car with a friend who has been drinking (14-30% do, according to a 2005 Ontario study). Before they go out, discuss how they plan to get home and offer to pick them up or ensure they have cab fare to pay their own way.
4. Know who they are going out with so they have a trustworthy ‘buddy system’ who will watch out for each other should any of them get into trouble. Teaching this while at home will help them when use the same system when they are older and away at school.
5. Know where they are going and have them phone when they switch locations.
6. Set a reasonable curfew and stay up to see them when they get home to see what condition they are in.
7. Reduce their fear to be truthful when they screw up. Convey that because you love them, you want no harm to come to them and that they can call you at any time if they are in any trouble. Assure them that you will not yell or be angry with them when you see them drunk. You will be relieved that they showed good sense to call for help. Then, the next day you can discuss with them what could they could have done to prevent the dangerous situation.
8. Teach your teens about how to deal with potentially violent situations and to steer clear of fistfights and verbal altercations. They do not want to have to confront a knife or a gun.
9. Talk to your daughters and sons about how alcohol can impair their judgement, increase impulsivity especially where sex is concerned. Your daughter does not want to find herself in a difficult situation that can lead to rape or unintentional pregnancy. Your son needs to show restraint and respect for girls and never use force to have sex. (To read more about teens and sex click here)
10. Excessive and regular alcohol use can mask depression, anxiety and other mental health problems. There is a 35% correlation between alcohol abuse and mental health disorders in teens. Some teens with severe shyness or low self esteem, may find drinking helps them fit in with their peers. Others may have depression, anxiety and anger problems. Get professional help from a counsellor like myself or an addictions specialist for your son or daughter when needed.
Teenagers and young adults learn best by example. Parents can model moderate alcohol consumption, a healthy lifestyle and safe drinking attitudes. Teenagers and young adults can sense hypocrisy quickly. Guiding teens to use better judgement while at home will prepare them for how they will handle themselveswhen they leave home for college, university or a job. Some parents of high school students find introducing a beer or glass of wine at home with dinner can help demonstrate moderation, open up the discussion and prevent later problems.