While it's no secret that teens experiment with alcohol, a growing national trend shows teens - some as early as junior high school - are engaging in extreme underage drinking. The point is to get as drunk as possible, as quickly and as cheaply as possibly.
These days there are more ways to accomplish this than ever before. The rising trend of mixing alcohol with super-caffeinated drinks is particularly troubling. While the FDA stepped in last year to essentially order some makers of popular alcoholic energy drinks to remove the caffeine from its products, some were reformulated. While no longer containing caffeine, each 23.5-ounce can may have the alcohol equivalent of four to five beers.
Despite efforts to curb drinking a combination of alcohol with energy drinks, the trend continues. Teens are finding a more dangerous way to binge, be it prepackaged products with high alcohol content or hard liquor.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention about 90 percent of all teen alcohol consumption occurs in the form of binge drinking. In 2008, there were approximately 190,000 emergency rooms visits by people under 21 for injuries and other conditions linked to alcohol.
While results of the Marshalltown Community School District's Safe Schools/Healthy Students Initiative survey shows there were 32 percent of eleventh graders that reported consuming alcohol in 2008, we suspect the number might be low. Among high school students nationally, about 42 percent of high school students reported drinking in the last 30 days, according to a CDC survey.
We're aware of the anxiety our adolescents experience - a need for independence and identity, coming to terms with body image, expectations in academics and extracurricular actives.
We also know that youth exposure to alcohol advertising on TV increased 71 percent between 2001 and 2009, according to an analysis by the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
While an entire novel could be written on the powerhouse that is the alcohol industry, even those who counter the influence of its promotion might find this combination unsettling. We have, in our midst, adolescents with an entirely different set of pubescent issues than we may have faced. That is to say, on top of just puberty it's now a world of influences (enter social media, cyber bullying, eating disorders, texting while driving) that we just might not be able to grasp. So we think that if a teen is made aware, perhaps through a marketing campaign or friends, that drinking alcohol will make you cool, get you the girl, take you to that concert or sporting event or otherwise escape (or even more powerful - fit in) - they just might believe it.
Alarming statistics and scenarios abound, as do the theories behind them. No matter what the influence, we know the most powerful tool to prevent teen drinking is strong parenting.
Included in today's T-R is PARADE magazine's special report on teens and extreme drinking. We hope this serves as a springboard for a discussion with your teenager, or soon-to-be college student.
Here's some tips parents:
Know the warning signs: Signs of extreme drinking include a drop in grades, changes in behavior and mood, a new set of friends, memory lapses and difficulty concentrating.
Open a dialogue: Ask you kids what kinds of experiences they're having, make your personal values clear and calmly lay out the risks. Studies have found that parents who combine clear expectations of accountability with support and warmth have more success in curbing binge drinking than either strictly authoritarian or overly indulgent parents.
Establish a code word: Before you kids go out, agree on a phrase they can say (or text) if they are in an uncomfortable situation and need to give you a signal to come get them right way, no questions asked.
If you tell your kids one thing, make it this: Drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short amount of time makes blood alcohol levels continue to rise dangerously after a person falls asleep. If you can't wake up your friend, call 911. The worst that can happen is you're wrong that they have blood alcohol poisoning - but the alternative is far worse. - PARADE