Underage drinking is the blanket term used to describe any amount of alcohol consumption by a person below the legally mandated age of 21. Binge drinking is the term used to describe the rapid consumption of enough alcohol to reach or exceed the nationwide U.S. standard for legal intoxication. In a report published in August 2014, researchers at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration looked at the differences in underage binge drinking participation that exist between America’s 50 states, as well as between separate regions within any given state.
ZIt’s easy to think of heavy drinking, even binge drinking, as an unfortunate but inescapable reality for teenagers and young adults. Many teenagers and those of newly minted drinking age experiment with alcohol use and frequently drink far too much in too short a time.
However, for the most part, young adults lose their taste for binge drinking and learn to moderate their alcohol consumption. This makes it even easier to shrug off heavy, irresponsible drinking among young adults and assume that they will eventually change their ways.
The problem with this line of thought (quite apart from the risk of alcohol poisoning or alcohol use disorders) is that heavy drinking in adolescence can do lasting damage to the brain. An increasing volume of research, including a new study from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, reveals the structural changes in the brain and memory that result from teenage drinking.
The Massachusetts study, published in The Journal of Neuroscience, involved rats that were given daily access to alcohol during their adolescence. When the rats reached adulthood, the researchers discovered changes in the structure of their brains due to their exposure to alcohol. Levels of myelin, which is a fatty substance that coats nerve fibers in the brain, were reduced in the rats that were given access to alcohol at a young age. The researchers also found that adolescent alcohol exposure appeared to have a behavioral impact in addition to a structural impact: the rats who drank in adolescence continued to perform worse on memory tests well into adulthood.
This research suggests that human teenagers who drink heavily for a period in adolescence run the risk of permanent structural brain damage and impaired memory. Previous studies have also suggested this risk, but since they were performed on humans rather than rodents, the researchers were unable to control for various environmental factors that could be contributing to cognitive impairment.
There have always been risks associated with heavy drinking and binge drinking, especially among adolescents. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 5,000 people under the age of 21 die each year from alcohol poisoning, alcohol-related car crashes, alcohol-related homicides or suicides or other accidents involving underage drinking. Furthermore, heavy drinking greatly increases the risks of alcohol dependence and other use disorders.
However, it has been easy to believe that those who escape serious harm, dependence or addiction during young adulthood will not suffer any consequences from heavy underage drinking. Research such as the new study from Massachusetts is increasingly demonstrating that this belief is not correct and that teenagers who drink heavily may be damaging their brains for life.
While it is too early to know for sure whether the results of heavy teenage drinking are likely to be permanent or simply long-lasting, this information highlights the importance of reducing heavy drinking and binge drinking among teenagers. It is not only important to help teenagers get through periods of alcohol experimentation and binge drinking without addiction or serious injury, but also to spread the knowledge that heavy drinking can be harmful, even if it does not result in any short-term consequences.
Alcohol screening tools are testing procedures used to help doctors identify people likely to have problems with alcohol consumption. A number of these tools are in common use in the U.S. and other countries, including the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) and a short four-question test known by the abbreviation T-ACE. In a study published in 2014 in The International Journal of Alcohol and Drug Research, a Canadian research team assessed the usefulness of the T-ACE screening tool for pregnant women, not just as an evaluation of risky drinking practices, but also as a means of identifying women with mental health problems and inadequate support networks during pregnancy.
College kids worry about passing tests, post-graduation careers and they probably spend a good deal of time thinking about fellow students of the opposite sex. Recent reports say that a troubling number of college students are also worrying about how much they weigh and how they look, and those worries translate into disordered eating.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health as many as one quarter of all university students are dealing with an eating disorder. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) conducted a 2013 study which revealed that the problem of disordered eating on university campuses is only getting worse.
With the heat of summer comes music festivals, and with music festivals comes illicit drug use and, all too frequently, tragic deaths. Each year at festivals like Bonnaroo in Tennessee and Electric Zoo in New York, people experiment with drugs like Molly, taking risks on MDMA cut with anonymous stimulants sold under the popular moniker. In the wake of tragedies at Electric Zoo and other festivals last year, summer festivals this year will be stepping up their drug screening policies, incorporating pat-downs, sniffer dogs and other similar measures to try to prevent problems.
People who develop alcohol-related problems often experience drinking urges that increase their odds of consuming even more alcohol. Addiction specialists view the presence of strong, recurring drinking urges as one of the primary indicators of the onset of alcoholism. In a study published in July 2014 in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, a team of Australian researchers assessed the impact that simultaneous consumption of alcohol and energy drinks has on the drinking urges of young adults. These researchers concluded that the urge to drink more alcohol increases in young adults who consume this combination of beverages.
People who use recreational drugs also often participate in the dangerous form of alcohol consumption called binge drinking. However, researchers only partly understand the reasons this overlapping substance abuse occurs. In a study published in July 2014 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review, a team of Australian researchers explored the role that drug intoxication plays in increasing the likelihood that a young adult substance user will also take part in binge drinking. These researchers concluded that some forms of drug intoxication (but not others) are linked with alcohol binging.
Drinking in college is almost a rite of passage. It has become such an ingrained part of college culture that it is difficult to remove. What’s worse than many underage college students having a beer or two is the prevalence of binge drinking. When young people drink to excess they risk their health, being assaulted and missing out on academic opportunities, not to mention becoming addicted to alcohol. Binge drinking is most common and extreme among people between the ages of 18 and 24. If you have a child in college, talk to him about binge drinking and just how harmful it can be.
Mixing energy drinks with liquor is not a new practice. The popular Red Bull and vodka is practically a classic cocktail. Young drinkers began the trend of adding alcohol to energy drinks to stay awake to party and to increase the buzz already provided by alcohol. Experts have warned about the dangers of mixing alcohol with stimulants like caffeinated beverages for years. Now, researchers have found another reason not to consume this toxic drink. It leads to harmful and dangerous binge drinking.
Heavy drinking is a problem for a number of reasons. It can lead to alcohol poisoning, intoxication, bad decisions, accidents and even addiction and health problems. Binge drinking is defined as more than four drinks at one sitting for a woman and more than five for a man. This kind of drinking is particularly prevalent among young people. Statistics show that 80 percent of college students drink and that half of them binge drink. The traditional approach to dealing with problem drinking is to commit to a 12-step program and to abstain from alcohol forever. For young people, this may be too big a challenge, and some experts think they have a viable alternative.