Too young, too much: Binge drinking on the rise among teens; is your child at risk?

Laura Knapp

Studies show alcohol consumption is widespread among U.S. teenagers, with most of these underage drinkers engaging in binge drinking.

“Binge drinking is generally defined as a person having more than five drinks in a sitting,” said Scott Rocush, executive director of Care Clinics Inc., a substance abuse treatment center in Naperville, Ill. A national survey cited by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that 11 percent of eighth-graders, 22 percent of 10th-graders and 29 percent of 12th-graders had engaged in binge drinking in the two weeks before being surveyed.

Alcohol consumption is a factor in nearly half of all teen car crashes, 2/3 of all sexual assaults and date rapes, and increases a teen’s risk for social problems, depression, suicidal thoughts and violence, according to the American Medical Association.

Below are signs that indicate your teenager might be binge drinking.

Evidence of alcohol abuse

“Check to make sure there isn’t alcohol missing or watered,” Clegg suggested.

Rocush added: “Finding large bottles of alcohol hidden in a kid’s bedroom or spills of alcohol could be a sign of binge drinking.”

Drinking vodka also could be an indication of an alcohol problem, Rocush said, since it’s odorless, and the teen would want to hide his or her use.

Actions speak loudly

“In other words, a teen that acts intoxicated,” Rocush said. Examples of impairment include slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, lack of coordination, difficulty in waking up and memory lapses. “Smelling alcohol on a teen’s breath could also be a sign,” said Trisha Clegg, affiliate executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Illinois.

Sphere of influence

Teens with drinking problems might start hanging out with a new group of kids, Rocush said, and they might be reluctant to have parents meet these new friends.

Spending less time at home

“Teens who are drinking need time to use and recover,” Rocush said. “Therefore, they’re not coming home, (and are) making excuses to stay at a friend’s house, for instance.”

Changes in personality

“Some kids become withdrawn while others get overly aggressive,” Clegg said. Parents might notice moodiness, irritability and defensiveness. Some teens involved with binge drinking adopt an attitude that “nothing matters.” This attitude could be expressed with a sloppy appearance, disinterest in favorite activities and low energy. Slipping grades in a teen who had been a good student could be another sign of a problem, Rocush said.


Steps parents can take with their teens

Act quickly Scott Rocush, executive director of Care Clinics Inc., suggested, a treatment locator provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Admini- stration.

Take notice Don’t let your teen stay overnight at friends’ houses and make sure he or she is home by midnight, Rocush said. “And make sure they check in with you when they come home,” he added.

Develop rules In addition, role-play real-life situations, Clegg suggested. This can help teens make good decisions in difficult situations when parents aren’t present.