The teenage years are often marked by risky behaviors and feelings of invincibility, two characteristics that tend to create a sense of unease in parents of adolescents. Though these risky behaviors take a number of different forms, one of the most common is binge drinking, which is defined by the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse as the consumption of five or more drinks on one occasion by a single person.
The statistics are sobering. Surveys have shown that one in every six American teenagers participates in binge drinking. Their demographic dominates the binge drinking scene, as the behavior is most common among those between the ages of 12 and 20. Though it may seem remarkable that children as young as 12 are engaging in abusive alcohol consumption, studies have shown that more than half of all U.S. teens have their first alcoholic drinks before the age of 15, and that more than 70% have had at least one drink before the age of 18.
The consequences of these decisions are grave. As many as 5,000 deaths of Americans under 21 can be attributed to alcohol-related car crashes, homicides, suicides, alcohol poisoning, and other alcohol-related injuries every year. But, the consequences don’t end there. Because the brain continues development well into a person’s 20s, the consumption of excessive amounts of alcohol during that time can do permanent damage to its growth. A number of health and developmental problems can be traced to excessive underage alcohol consumption.
Though many parents know that binge drinking is a dangerous but popular activity in which adolescents sometimes engage, few are really attuned to the signs of a problem. If your teen displays symptoms like slurred speech, changes in social groups, academic difficulty, memory problems, or concentration problems, he or she might have a problem with alcohol. Of course, a teen with an alcohol abuse problem needs the help and support of family, although professional rehabilitation is also important in the quest to help a loved one leave harmful habits behind.
The teen drinking epidemic is scary, but it is by no means insurmountable. Know the risks, know the signs, and know where to find help if a problem should arise.