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Drinking too much has been around as long as, well, “drinking.” This is particularly true for young people under the legal drinking age of 21 years.

But there’s a new development afoot that’s causing more concern than too much beer on the weekend ever did. It’s called extreme drinking, which is sometimes assumed synonymous with binge drinking and sometimes presented as another notch beyond that. Extreme drinking is increasing rapidly and dangerously among high school and college age students.

Extreme drinking is often built upon drinks like Jungle Juice, a mixture of hard liquor, fruit juices, and, sometimes, high caffeine energy drinks. It makes adolescents drunk quicker and cheaper, which is part of its youthful appeal.

Researchers have demonstrated that teens don’t drink like adults, which means they don’t drink a glass over a meal or social drink at a party. Instead, 90% of all teen drinking is binge drinking. Four beers for women and five for men consumed within an hour is the standard definition of binge drinking, a both-gender issue.

Caffeine in alcoholic drinks apparently makes them more dangerous because the caffeine can keep a person awake and drinking long after the drinker might typically have fallen asleep. And hard liquor is being used more often than beer in drinking games like beer pong.

The problem with underage extreme drinking: more injuries, more fatalities, more sexual aggression by the drinker or sexual abuse of the drinker, and a 40-60% higher likelihood the underage drinker, beginning early, will become an alcoholic in later years.

I don’t consider drinking a sin, as some of my conservative Christian friends do. But I don’t drink as a matter of choice, as more and more of my Christian friends are doing—in fact, I’d say the number that don’t drink has dropped precipitously and rapidly in the past thirty years. But that’s another subject.

Binge or extreme drinking is something else again. The attraction is anyone’s guess, though youth who participate talk about getting drunk without having to taste the drink—an odd thought to me—and about their perception of fun, which they indicate can’t happen without senses-deadening, ear-splitting noise and getting hammered. Psychologists talk about a sense of belonging for which people search during youth or a sense of alienation from the world with its concomitant desire for escape, even if for just a few hours.

I think recent increases in extreme drinking are not about kids just being kids or young ones sowing wild oats. This is a danger sign and a warning. For all their lack of innocence, youth today are still naïve about the long-term consequences of what in 2008 candidate Barack Obama called “youthful indiscretions.”

Youth have always been youth, meaning they get into trouble experimenting their way to adulthood. But the trouble they can get into today is exponentially more dangerous than it used to be. Indiscretions used to give youth hangovers and from time to time a pregnancy. Now indiscretions can leave youth with lifetime addictions or serious maladies like STDs. Or worse still, indiscretions can kill them outright. Extreme drinking brings all these probabilities with it.

Drinking education programs in schools can help but aren’t the real answer. We need something more powerful and we have it.

For all their presumed and postured rebellion against adults, youth still largely take their cues from adults. It seems youth want adult supervision, that’s part of the "belonging," even when they reject it. Until youth see adults sharing different attitudes about alcohol use and abuse and until adults use alcohol more wisely, I don’t think much will change in youth drinking patterns. So what the kids need are grownups in the group, adults who are mature in attitudes and behaviors.

It’s a tough world out there. Time for grownups to grow up, take charge, model good behavior, and don’t be afraid to set boundaries, stay engaged, and tough love kids into adulthood, especially in terms of alcohol abuse. The risks and rewards are high. Not doing this could mean youth never see adulthood. Adults getting involved with kids in terms of extreme drinking can mean kids live long and prosper.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

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