When the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released their new report on binge drinking last month, they used two words to describe the health problem: serious and under-recognized.
I don’t know what it is about Americans, but we can’t seem to handle our liquor. And who is at the biggest risk?
As a father of two daughters, one who is headed down to Southern California this fall for her freshman year of college… this issue has definitely grabbed my attention.
The brand new January 8, 2013 study from the CDC reveals that 20 percent of high school girls binge drink (consuming 4 or more alcoholic drinks on an occasion). It would be nice to dismiss this as a phase of immaturity, but when they graduate from high school, the number rises. 24 percent of 18-24-year-olds binge drink.
“So what!” many girls would respond. Actually…only about 75% of binge drinking college girls would say that, because 25% of them have been sexually victimized after a binge drinking episode.
A Rutgers study titled, Freshman Women’s Binge Drinking Tied to Sexual Assault Risk, was published one year ago in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. This sobering report (no pun intended) followed hundreds of young women who had never drunk heavily in high school (if at all). Sadly, nearly half of these women admitted to binge drinking at least once by the end of their first college semester. Scarier yet, one in four of these women said they’d been sexually victimized in the fall semester, including anything from unwanted sexual contact to rape.
You probably don’t even need to see the research to fathom the problem. Girls don’t weigh as much as guys. When a 115-125 pound girl downs even 3 drinks in one sitting… her inhibitions have taken a dive. Imagine what happens when she drinks 4 to 6.
I’ll never forget my experience with “Kristen” my freshman year of college. I went with several friends to an off-campus party. The small second story Santa Barbara apartment was packed with college students all walking around sipping out of their red solo cups. Before long, I slipped out to the balcony to get some fresh air. It was there that I discovered Kristen, the girl who lived in the dorm room directly above me, completely passed out, leaning over the balcony with a string of drool stretching from her mouth to the pile of vomit on the grass below. Kristen had an empty 8 oz. bottle of Vodka next to her feet. She had downed the whole bottle by herself.
Guys were starting to take notice of the attractive girl bent over the balcony, with her short skirt revealing far too much. I heard enough of their conversation to realize that I needed to get Kristen out of there before she was taken to one of the adjoining bedrooms. I gathered a couple friends, only one who was sober enough to drive, and we carried Kristen out to the car, up 6 flights of stairs, and tucked her into her bed in full party attire.
To this day I have no idea if Kristen knows what fate she avoided that night. Millions of girls could probably tell her in explicit detail. According to the CDC study cited above, nearly 14 million US women binge drink about 3 times a month. That’s a whole lot of women who have removed their inhibitions.
That’s a dangerous place for any woman to be.
Personally, I wonder why we are all standing around scratching our heads wondering why this is a problem. We are the ones who provide both blatant and subtle messages that getting drunk is normal, harmless, and fun.
During the most-watched television event of the year, The Super Bowl, our kids saw countless commercials where drinking was equated with fun. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not bashing drinking. I’m talking about drinking irresponsibly. And Americans just can’t seem to find that balance. Take the Gildan Activewears’s ad where the man woke up Hangover-style, confused by the fur handcuffs dangling from his wrist. All a laughing matter, right?
Let’s take one of the most innocent movies of recent, Captain America. This 2011 film was probably one of the most wholesome popular films to hit the screen in a decade. The film promoted good character all around, the kind of values truly found in Scripture.
Yet, several times throughout the film, the story suggested that getting drunk was a common and desired solution to adversity. In a moment of victory many of the heroes celebrated by drinking heavily. In another scene the professor confessed to drinking too much, a laughing moment. Later, Captain America himself tries to get drunk to erase his problems, but is frustrated that his metabolism won’t let him get drunk. What are our 8-year-olds learning from entertainment media like this? What about our 13-year-olds?
Am I saying we shouldn’t show our kids the Super Bowl and Captain America?
Not even close. I’m proposing two thoughts:
- Talk as You Walk!
Parents, coaches and adult mentors shouldn’t underestimate the power of dialogue.
Last week my son Alec tweeted me from APU, his college in Southern California. One of his teachers had seen the new CDC study and brought it up in class. She simply asked questions, like, “When does drinking become dangerous?” “How many drinks does it take?” Alec said the whole class was engaged in the conversation.
Adults shouldn’t be afraid to bring the subject up.
As parents engage with their teenagers throughout the day (as they get up, as they walk along the road, as they go to bed at night… Duet. 6), they should dialogue with their kids about the realities of drinking too much. Parents underestimate the impact they have on their kids. Three out of four kids say their parents are “the leading influence on their decisions about drinking.”
No mom or dad wants to be that legalistic, over-protective, helicopter parent whose kids end up rebelling anyway when they finally “escape the dungeon.” On the other extreme, parents don’t want to be that overly-permissive parent who lets their kids get away with murder. Research shows that parents should be warm and engaging, yet proactive about monitoring behaviors and setting realistic guidelines.
One example of this research is a recent study out of Brigham Young University revealing that the combination of “warmth” and “intense monitoring of behaviors” was effective in deterring drinking. In fact, teens brought up in homes with parents who were either too permissive or too strict were 3 times (too permissive) and two times (too strict) more likely to binge drink from those who came from homes with warmth and behavior monitoring.
What about you? Would your kids describe your conversations with them as “warm”? Do you fall to one of those two extremes?
- Hollywood Needs to Own Up!
Filmmakers and artists should think twice about the messages they’re communicating. Am I saying never show someone drinking? No, I’m saying that Hollywood needs to stop selling out. Today’s films are littered with eye candy and gratuitous, irresponsible moments. I don’t mind when a film shows the truth, but often, films don’t show any consequences to actions. Sometimes they are even promoting alcohol. 61% of movies use product placement of some kind. They aren’t allowed to promote tobacco products, but alcohol is fair game.
I’m not talking about censorship; I’m talking about social responsibility. Filmmakers and musicians are role models whether they like it or not. This transcends the subject of drugs and alcohol. I’m not alone in this. In their report, Sexuality, Contraception and the Media, The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) revealed evidence of the media’s powerful influence on adolescents’ attitudes, values and beliefs. They proposed this same kind of responsibility, contending, “Pediatricians and child advocacy groups should encourage the entertainment industry to produce more programming that contains responsible sexual content and that focuses on the interpersonal relationship in which sexual activity takes place.”
Some parents don’t think this issue is a big deal. But it’s our daughters who are suffering the biggest consequences.
The problem extends much further than our girls alone. Teen alcohol use kills 6,000 young people each year. Sadly, many adults are just ignoring the problem. Hence the word that the CDC used to describe this problem: unrecognized.
Perhaps we need to start recognizing this for what it is.
Have you talked with your teenager about the effects of alcohol today?