LISBON - Surveys show that the percentage of college students who binge drink defined as five drinks for men and four drinks for women in two hours has held steady at about 40 percent for most of the past decade, consistently more than non-college students. Combining alcohol with energy drinks has fueled students' ability to drink more and longer.
One estimate from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism blames binge drinking for more than 1,800 college student deaths a year, mostly from drunken driving.
Research shows that frequent binge drinkers are more likely to miss classes, get hurt, engage in risky sex, and have problems in class.
One mother recounts a late night call from her daughter, a student at a college in Connecticut, begging her parents to come and get her, even though the campus was hours away from her home.
The mother had her daughter stay on line while the father called campus security. When officials found her a few minutes later, her face was covered in blood. She had fallen and broken her nose, but she was so intoxicated that she did not realize it. She had been drinking something called "Jungle Juice," a potentially lethal concoction of a syrupy mix of hard liquors and fruit juices.
Some kids throw energy drinks into the mixture. There are dozens of recipes for Jungle Juice online. One popular site calls it "Suicide in a Kettle."
A June 2011 article in "Parade Magazine" says it is not unheard of for kids to sneak into their parents' liquor cabinets. What is new and alarming is the rising trend of extreme underage drinking.
Many advocate changing the legal drinking age to 21 nationwide. "We're seeing kids coming in with blood alcohol levels in the mid .3s, even .4, which is four to five timed the legal limit for driving. That's the level at which 50 percent of people die," said Dr. Mary Claire O'Brien, an emergency medicine physician and assistant professor at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in North Carolina, who specializes in alcohol-related research. "Ten years ago, we saw those levels only in chronic alcoholics."
The goal of adolescents who drink is to get as drunk as possible, as quickly and cheaply as possible.
Unfortunately, there are now more and more dangerous ways to accomplish this than ever before:?the practice of mixing alcohol with super-caffeinated energy drinks; the marketing of flavored malt beverages in 23.5 ounce cans, each containing a serious dose of alcohol; a shift in preference from beer to hard liquor; and the influence of social media, through which kids avidly share Jungle Juice recipes and tales of their exploits, have all raised the stakes.
According to the CDS, about 90 percent of all teen alcohol consumption occurs in the form of binge drinking, which experts say peaks at age 19.
Forty-one percent of 12th graders report having had a drink in the previous 30 days, and by the time kids are in college, that number climbs to 72 percent.
Approximately 200,000 adolescents visit emergency rooms each year because of drinking-related incidents, and more than 1,700 college students die.
"Underage drinking doesn't discriminate," said Adrian Lopez, director of community outreach for the SoBeSober program for teens in Miami. "Whether you are an upper-middle-class, straight-A student or from an inner city, it impacts all demographics and communities. And it often peaks in May and June, when kids are celebrating proms and graduations. We call it 'The Killing Season.'"
The craze for combining energy drinks, (which can have far more caffeine than coffee or cola,) with alcohol is particularly troubling. Dr. O'Brien first became aware of the phenomenon in 2006 when a student was brought in near-comatose. "The caffeine blocks the part of alcohol that makes you sleepy and might otherwise cause you to pass out, so you are able to drink far more than you might have. By the time many of these kids get to the hospital, they have to be put temporarily on respirators because of depressed breathing."
Dr. O'Brien and her colleagues conducted a survey of 4,271 students from universities in North Carolina and found that about a quarter of the kids who had a drink in the past 30 days said they were mixing alcohol and energy drinks. They got drunk twice as often and drank more per session than those who had alcohol without caffeine.
The FDA ordered the makers of four brands including Phusion Projects which sells the cult favorite "Four Loko" to remove the caffeine.
It was re-formulated and no longer contains caffeine, but each 23.5 ounce can has the alcohol equivalent of four to five beers. One high school junior said that "Four Loko" is everywhere and tastes like candy, so kids drink a lot of it at a fast pace.
Hard liquor is increasingly replacing beer in drinking games. Kids can easily drink 7 to 10 shots at a time. "The adolescent brain is much more sensitive to alcohol toxicity than adults, including being vulnerable to cell death," said Dr. Fulton Crews, director of the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. "Adolescents showed much more frontal cortical damage than adults. We found that one high dose of alcohol caused significant loss of brain stem cells." Dr. Crews said that if kids start drinking early, they are 40 percent to 60 percent more likely to become an alcoholic, regardless of family history.
In Columbiana County, the Young Adult Initiative of the ADAPT (Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Team) Coalition conducted a survey of alcohol use in 2011 among 582 individuals aged 18 to 25.
Results show 25 percent of those surveyed are binge drinking and almost 57 percent reported alcohol use in the past 30 days. Peer influence is powerful with this age group, and unfortunately 90 percent reported that their friends have never tried to stop them from getting drunk. Eighty-two percent reported their friends have actually encouraged them to drink.
The Columbiana County MHRS Board's priorities include prevention of substance abuse and the provision of effective treatment for persons with addictions. For more information, call the MHRS Board at 330-424-0195, or visit the Board's website: www.ccmhrsb.org.
The ADAPT Coalition, which is partially funded by the MHRS Board, is a great source of information for parents and community members who are interested in preventing youth substance abuse.
Contact ADAPT at 330-424-0531 or visit the ADAPT website at www.adaptcoalition.org.