Alcohol is the most widely used drug in the U.S. and is so common and accepted in our society that most people don’t think of it as a drug. Likewise, it is the number one drug of choice among American teens. Kids use alcohol to get drunk - often very drunk. When teens consume alcohol, few do so wisely and limit themselves to one social drink. There is generally no such thing as responsible teen drinking of alcohol. “Moderate”, “careful” and “prudent” do not typically describe adolescent drinking. They just aren't wired that way.
Today’s teen drinking is often not about chugging a few beers or gulping down sweet wine, as was the case back in our day. Instead, teens often take multiple shots or swigs from “handles” of hard liquor such as vodka, bourbon, whiskey, gin and scotch.
Some teens drink to the point of vomiting or passing or “blacking” out. Blackouts are a temporary loss of memory resulting from binge drinking. Adolescents seem more prone to blackouts than adults. Blackouts can lead to problems such as unintended or unwanted sexual activity, injury or death. Emergency Room transports are not uncommon among teens these days. An excellent New York Times article describes this phenomenon on college campuses at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/19/opinion/drinking-to-blackout.html.
Binge drinking. According to the most recent 2015-16 California Healthy Kids Survey results, in Marin County, 24% of public school 11th graders have consumed five or more drinks in a few hours in the past 30 days. In the Tamalpais Union HS District, this binge drinking number is significantly higher than the County averages at 34%. Additionally, 40% of Marin County public school 11th graders and 51% of Tam District 11th graders report being "very drunk or sick after drinking alcohol" in their lifetime.
Binge Drinking is defined for boys as consuming five or more drinks and for girls four or more drinks in about two hours. More than 90% of the alcohol consumed by teens is done by binge drinking. Binge drinking is responsible for over half of the 88,000 deaths in the U.S. each year from alcohol. Teens who binge drink are three times more likely to binge drink as adults.
Today’s teen drinking too often results in deaths, especially when alcohol is mixed with prescription pills or other drugs. In Marin, a teen or young adult has died of alcohol or other drugs at an alarming rate of every two to four weeks for the past several years. In 2012-13, the rate was every two weeks and this didn’t include those Marin teens and young adults who died while away at college or those who had no toxicology results.
Over the past 15 years, drug related ER visits and deaths in Marin have tripled. For this reason, Marin County’s Public Health Officer, Matt Willis, who has a child at Drake H.S., has called teen alcohol and other drug use in Marin “an ongoing public health crisis.” See “A Dangerous Game” at http://www.marinmagazine.com/September-2016/Dangerous-Game/
Large Parties and Party Buses. Almost 75% of teen drinkers drink at parties hosted by other teens. Some of these parties occur with adults looking the other way while teens drink or smoke; others occur when parents go away for the night or weekend and the teens then stage an epic bash. Or they are the rolling parties on wheels - party buses. Parties are not inherently “bad” - but the alcohol and other drugs typically present when unsupervised parties occur lead to extremely risky behavior.
Drinking Games. Drinking games such as Beer Pong (also called Beirut), Flip Cup, Screw the Dealer, Power Hour and Edward Fortyhands are popular games and lead to excessive drinking among teens.
Types of Alcohol Specifically Marketed to Teens. “Alcopops” are sweet, teen friendly drinks such as Smirnoff Ice, Bacardi Breezer and Mike’s Hard Lemonade. They are marketed to teens and have more alcohol than beer. Flavored ciders and alcoholic ginger beers also have gained in popularity. Teens often mix hard liquor with soda, juice or other beverages that disguise the smell and taste of the alcohol. Clear liquor such as vodka are often poured into water bottles to escape detection.
Caffeinated Alcohol Beverages and Mixing Alcohol with Energy Drinks. Caffeinated alcohol beverages may be malt liquor or distilled spirits and usually have higher alcohol content than beer. An example used to be Four Loko which was marketed to teens until it was banned in several states and by the the FDA. Four Loko was then reintroduced without caffeine and no longer marketed as an energy drink but is now flavored with lemonade, fruit punch and watermelon flavors.
More common these days is the use of energy drinks as chasers or mixers for hard liquor. An example is Red Bull. Energy drinks typically contain caffeine, other plant based stimulants, simple sugars and other additives. Called a “wide awake drunk”, the caffeine rush makes the drinker look and feel more balanced and coordinated so they don’t believe they are drunk. The stimulants create a “sobering effect” which makes the drinker feel as if they can drink more and stay out all night. Energy drinks essentially mask the depressive effects of alcohol and signs of inebriation.
Energy and alcohol drinkers are three times more likely to binge drink, four times more likely to think they can drive, and twice more likely to report riding with a driver who was under the influence or being taken advantage of sexually. Mixing alcohol with energy drinks causes more dehydration, alcohol poisoning, ER visits and hospitalizations, is more addictive and results in adolescent brain damage.
Delay, Delay, Delay! Not every teen who drinks is going to become an alcoholic or get rushed to the ER. Many parents used alcohol as teens and came out just fine, and many still use alcohol in responsible and controlled ways. A majority of teens follow the same pattern. Yet the younger a person starts using alcohol, the more likely abuse or addiction will develop. Here are the statistics: 90% of alcohol and drug addictions start in the teen years. Youth who start drinking before age 15 years are SIX times more likely to develop alcohol dependence or abuse later in life than those who begin drinking at or after age 21 years. The percentage of teenage abuse of alcohol increases by nearly 50% between the ages of 14 and 18, and one out of 13 teens will get into trouble with alcohol abuse or become addicted later in life.