All too common in recent years is the weekend party featuring the consumption of alcohol in high quantities by adolescents. If we don’t witness it firsthand, we get to watch the result of their brainless antics on the Sunday evening news—another young man struck down by a drunken gatecrasher, a horror car accident or a street bashing.
Binge drinking is consuming alcohol with the intention of getting extremely drunk during a night out. In 2008, shocking statistics revealed that 70 per cent of 14 to 17-year-old Australians drank regularly, and one in five 16- and 17-year-olds binge drink in any given week. No wonder Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd pronounced binge drinking an “epidemic,” and the federal government poured millions into advertising campaigns and liquor reform. A year later, the trend continues: teenagers with no experience as social drinkers front bars and backyards to sate a big thirst.
Teenagers binge drink to create a sense of euphoria, minimise nervousness and inhibition, build social bonds and create moments of drama, hilarity and risk-taking, relished and relived by the group. One experienced drinker, reported in the Age, said, “Booze solves all your problems, from shyness to lack of personality.” These are the same reasons many adults consume alcohol, which are also responsible for those television advertisements of the lovable Aussie rogue drinking beer with his mates on a fishing trip or a barbecue.
Obviously, they’ll never show the reality— the grieving mother, the battered wife or the vomit-covered cocktail dress on the girl in the gutter.
Understandably, we grieve about the violence, road tragedies, unwanted pregnancies, rapes, bashings and risktaking of the teenage binge-drinking scene. Despite this, society has largely ignored the direct effects of alcohol on the body and mind of the teenager.
Until now. Recent revelations suggest that parents should attempt to postpone their child’s first drink at late as possible, in order to avoid its negative effects on their body.
In any quantity, alcohol causes abnormalities in mental function, and has a toxic affect on the spinal cord and nerves that send impulses to the muscles and organs. But consumed in large quantities, it can lead to seizure and paralysed breathing, although coma or purging usually occurs first. Persistent, frequent binge drinking causes permanent damage to eyesight, depression of heart and lung function, and lifethreatening liver malfunction. Alcohol will eventually cause permanent brain degeneration, damaging the limbic system governing memory, emotions and the ability to use the senses; decrease the size and quality of the outer layer of the brain, called the cerebral cortex, affecting learning, spatial memory, problem solving and intelligent behaviour; and reduce blood flow to the frontal lobe, which presides over planning and socially-acceptable behaviour.
Teenage consumption of alcohol can lead to an adulthood of alcoholism, sexual malfunction, anxiety and depression, plus changes in character, early dementia and psychotic episodes.
A recent UK study1 into long-term teen binge drinking reports “16-yearold binge drinkers were significantly more likely to have had a criminal conviction or harmful accident, leave school without qualifications, experience downward social drift, earn less and had more mental health problems by the age of 30 than 16-year-olds who didn’t binge drink.”
So in a culture where alcohol is socially desirable and “you can’t trust a man who doesn’t drink,” it’s going to take a paradigm shift in teen attitudes, and adults may even have to model and educate differently. Teens must take more ownership of their choices and begin consciously choosing their next move.
We all agree teenagers should live their own lives but nobody wants to see them make a mess of it.