Binge drinking among teens has always been an issue, but unfortunately alcohol use is becoming more prevalent at younger and younger ages. While many parents (including me) discussed the use of alcohol with their teenagers during their high school years, a recent clinical report by the American Academy of Pediatrics published in the journal Pediatrics states that “by the eighth grade a quarter of those surveyed had consumed alcohol”.
The report found that children start to “think positively about alcohol between 9 and 13 years of age”. With this finding it is incumbent upon parents and pediatricians to start the discussion about alcohol use at even earlier ages. Personally, I think that one of the reasons we need to discuss alcohol use with younger children, may be due to the fact that alcohol use and availability has become more and more prevalent across our society. Many young children’s birthday parties in my area include alcohol for the adults. Some play groups now have “mommy juice” in coolers at the park as well as apple juice for the toddlers. Parents are drinking on the sidelines of the soccer and baseball game. Grocery stores and pharmacies all carry beer and wine which makes it easy to pick up a bottle of wine while you wait for your child’s prescription. Recently, more and more college sporting events are allowing alcohol sales in their stadiums, field houses and coliseums.
The statistics reveal that alcohol is the substance most frequently abused by children and adolescents in the U.S. In 2014, “half of twelfth graders and one in nine eight graders reported having been drunk at least once in their life”. We also know that among our youth, the proportion who drink heavily is higher than among adults who drink.
Because teens typically weigh less than adults, binge drinking is teens is defined differently than for adults. For girls ages 9-7, three or more drinks in a two hour period is considered binge drinking and for boys ages 9-13 the cutoff is three or more drinks, for boys 14-15 it’s four or more drinks, and for boys 16-17, its five or more drinks.
It is also not difficult to understand the correlation between binge drinking and risk taking behaviors among teens. Binge drinking has been associated with earlier sexual activity and teen pregnancy, fatal car accidents and even alcohol poisoning and death. Not only does alcohol affect choices while imbibing, but it “may interfere with important aspects of brain development that can lead to cognitive impairment, brain injury and substance use disorders later in life”.
Lastly, not surprisingly, teens look to their parents on their decision to drink or not. Modeling behavior could not be more important, as one teen once told me when discussing her use of alcohol, “why don’t you talk to my mom about coming home drunk every night, then I will talk to you”.