Binge drinking is by far the most problematic of all the teenage issues. Young people are drinking at much greater levels than those of their parents at the same age. And they are doing it differently. They mix their alcohol with energy drinks, which themselves can cause real big problems with things like anxiety and risky-behaviour. They also mix alcohol with all sorts of other drugs, both illicit and prescription medications.
Alcohol is a drug. Let's not kid ourselves about this. It is also the most commonly used drug across all age groups. The short-term implications of drinking alcohol at risky levels are bad enough, but the long-term implications can be devastating! For those young people who take up drinking before the age of 15, the biggest problems they will face in their future, are going to be mental health problems and possibly serious health issues. It's even worse for those who take it up before the age of 13. They are pretty much guaranteed that they will face dire issues as adults.
In Australia, the highest levels of alcohol consumption are seen in those under the age of 18. They're not even legally allowed to drink alcohol yet! So how has this become such a huge problem for our teens? Well, the answer is simple, adults are supplying it to them. You can't walk into a bottle shop as a 13 year old and buy it yourself!
The major supplier to teens are actually their parents!
So why do adults, and parents who should know better, do this? For some parents that I talk with, they tell me that they think that it is better for them to buy the alcohol for their teens and have them drink it at home, in a controlled environment. Is this true though?
No, not at all, according to all the research. Parents who buy alcohol for their kids, are literally giving them a green light to go ahead and drink, anywhere, anytime! They are literally giving them permission to drink!
All the research over the last 15 years on how alcohol affects the still-forming teenage brain, tells us that the minute you put alcohol in the mix, then you are doing damage to that brain, before it's even finished forming. The most important areas of the adult brain, do not finish growing until up to about age 28 or 29 in males and a few years earlier in females. I wrote about this in my previous blog 'Drive fast... Die Young!'. Not only is the brain still growing, but of course alcohol totally messes with our thinking and behaviour. It leads us to do things that when we are sober, we wouldn't even think about doing! It is also implicated in about 80% of all suicides.
Alcohol is also a depressant. We are not just talking here about what it does to the central nervous system, it also has a huge effect on our mental state. I'll say it again, alcohol is a depressant!
With the fact that 50% of all mental health problems that will ever exist, are already there by the time we turn 18, 75% by age 25, how many of these problems might be directly attributed to alcohol use in the teenage years? Quite a lot according to the research!
Too many adults tell me that teenage binge-drinking is just a phase that they are going through and that they grow out of it. Maybe so. But are they going to come out of it with all their faculties intact? I don't think so! A lot of parents also tell me that binge-drinking is a rite of passage for teenagers, they did it too, and they survived. Well, the facts are that their kids are doing it differently and the most likely outcome is going to be a lot different to their parents. A rite of passage? No, it is a wrong passage for them to take, and there is nothing right about it!
So, how do we tackle this problem of teenage binge-drinking?
One of the first things that we can do, it to 'Just say NO'. If, as parents and adults, we take a stand in not buying or supplying our teens with alcohol, then it will make it harder for them to access it. We can also make sure that they have enough money on them for what they might need if they are out with friends, but not enough to buy a bottle of vodka! It seems that many teens have way too much money given to them by their parents. We can also make a difference by watching our own behaviours towards alcohol. How much do we need to have in our own homes? Lots of young people are just able to help themselves to their parents stock. Do we always need to celebrate events with alcohol? Can't we have a clean gathering every now and then?
Our behaviours really set our kids up with many of their behaviours to come. We really need to think about what we show to them.
We can also become pro-active in our own communities. At the moment in Byron Bay, we are fighting a proposed Dan Murphy's superstore. Why? Because it's door is going to be right next to the door to the only youth entertainment in town, the cinema. It is smack bang right in the centre of town, where young teens gather. It will also sell alcohol at such ridiculously cheap prices, that our kids will be paying between 10c and 30c for a standard drink! $1.99 bottles of wine and even cheaper per drink if you buy a cask! Lots of bang for little bucks!
As parents, you can educate yourselves about the issues with alcohol and teenagers. Read the articles about it. Read what the research says. Search for strategies that can help you to help your kids have a good start in life, without alcohol messing up their brains forever and leaving them with mental health problems.
It's not that hard to make small changes, that can make a big difference in the end.
Life is short.... make it matter...