Rocker Kim Mitchell belted out words of wisdom in his '80s hit song "Go for Soda." The lines "Nobody hurts and nobody cries" and "Nobody drowns and nobody dies" are a clear reminder of the benefits of drinking nonalcoholic beverages. Alcohol-related trauma is the number one preventable cause of death among young Canadians. Approximately 45 per cent of youth deaths involve motor vehicle crashes, and nearly 40 per cent of these traffic deaths are alcohol related, according to a Smartrisk 2005 survey.
With approximately one in four teens engaging in a popular high-risk pattern of drinking referred to as binge drinking, the potential for disastrous consequences is a painful reality.
Binge drinking is episodic drinking, defined as anything over five drinks in one evening or sitting. It's prevalent among 23 per cent of students in grades seven through 12. It's lowest among seventh graders (3 per cent) and peaks at 42 per cent among 12th graders. Whether it's experimenting with alcohol for the first time at a party or a regular pastime, binge drinking welcomes reckless behavior that can lead to dangerous and life-changing consequences such as death, injury, rape, and possible legal charges and indictments.
Dr. Sharon Cirone, Addictions Consultant to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service at St. Joseph's Hospital in Toronto, cautions that it's imperative parents open the lines of communication with their teens to educate them about the perils of binge drinking. "Youth are going to university at a much younger age than they used to and they're really quite ill prepared for much of the partying that goes on at campus," says Cirone. "Most of us were 18 or 19 before we got to campus. Some of them are 16 and 17 now. Just that year makes a big difference in their maturity to handle some of these scenarios, let alone handling the scenarios with their brain lubricated with alcohol."
Dr. Cirone says peer pressure is a common reason teens experiment with alcohol at parties during high school and university. Some teens will socially engage in alcohol occasionally, maybe because they feel less inhibited and not as shy once they've had a few drinks, whereas other teens may be "genetically loaded." These teens are "genetically more at risk for progressing from alcohol use to alcohol dependence." They come from families where there is alcohol dependence and/or other illicit substance abuse, or a history of mental disorders.
For example, Dr. Cirone says there is strong evidence to suggest that sons of fathers with antisocial personality disorder will become drinkers, and binge drinking is typically a pattern of drinking that kicks off the cycle of alcohol dependence. This type of youth will oftentimes be the one who can "drink everybody under the table" on a regular basis, says Cirone. They may also drink as a form of self-medication because they discover that alcohol helps their anxiety or helps them to feel comfortable in a group.
(Know the signs of teenage depression.)
Page 1 of 3
Many teens can also, as a result of their binge drinking, go on to develop mental health issues such as stress, agitation and irritability after a binge period, says Dr. Cirone. "There are mental health and stress issues that precede alcohol use and some that progress out of alcohol use." There is a 30 to 40 per cent correlation between alcohol use and mental health disorders in the adolescent population, adds Dr. Cirone.
With the knowledge that binge drinking is a fact of life among adolescents, whether they try it only once or every Friday and Saturday night, Dr. Cirone suggests the most important thing that parents can do is discuss safety and behavioural harm reduction methods with their children.
• Ensure teens don't drive after drinking alcohol.
• Ensure teens don't get into a car that is driven by someone who has been drinking.
• Arrange for alternate transportation to get home in the first place, such as cab fare or to be picked up by a parent.
• Set a curfew for your teen and try to be awake to see when he/she gets in.
• Suggest that your teen have a buddy system, especially when living on campus while attending university or college.
• Talk to your son or daughter about the consequences of getting into a fistfight or verbal altercation, or worse, someone pulling a gun or knife.
• Talk to your daughters about how alcohol can impair their judgment and affect their impulsivity, especially where sexual encounters are concerned. It is common for girls to find themselves in compromising situations that can result in rape and unintentional pregnancy.
• Parents should role model a healthy use of alcohol.
Page 2 of 3
Strategies to reduce binge drinking behaviour
Robert Solomon is a professor of law at the University of Western Ontario and National Director of Legal Policy, MADD Canada (Mothers Against Drunk Driving). On May 17, 2006, MADD Canada released a report, co-authored by Professor Solomon, on strategies that the provinces can adopt in an effort to reduce and prevent deaths and injuries as a consequence of drinking and driving.
"My view is we should focus on the patterns of consumption that pose the clearest risk of death and injury, and that's binge drinking," says Solomon. The report is calling for more "rigorous enforcement of the liquor license legislation, particularly in terms of bars, taverns and pubs that are frequented by young males and young people."
Solomon admits that it is very common for some of these establishments to ignore the existing law by serving alcohol to minors and to already intoxicated youth. (The legal drinking age is 19 in all provinces, except Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec, where the legal drinking age is 18.)
MADD Canada is also calling for the introduction of the graduated driver's license in every jurisdiction. The Northwest Territories, Nunavut and PEI are the only provinces that have yet to establish formal graduated license programs. This would impose restrictions on when, where and at what time teens can drive their car. In addition, MADD Canada is advocating that no one under the age of 21 be able to drive with any alcohol in their system.
Professor Solomon adds that allowing alcohol-related events on your property involving minors is exposing yourself to risk. You are liable under the general occupier's liability act for any injuries that occur on or in relationship to your property. This means that you can be sued and held accountable for damages. This could cost you anywhere from $200 for a minor injury to millions of dollars if, for instance, the victim is rendered a quadriplegic. Only in extreme circumstances is it likely that hosting an alcohol-related event would give rise to criminal charges, where it could lead to fines and or imprisonment. University staff would have liability as an occupier as well if "they turn a blind eye to an event on their property, which in the past was fraught with risk," says Solomon.
Legality aside, Solomon is fighting to save lives. "The disaster isn't whether a home owner or parent is held liable," says Solomon. "The disaster is the needless death or injury of a young person. And we have to understand that behind every one of these civil suits is a human face."
Scary statistics parents should know
About one in seven, or 14 per cent, of licensed students drink and drive in Ontario. According to a 2005 OSDUS (Ontario Student Drug Use Survey), 29 per cent of all students reported having been a passenger with a driver who had been drinking. The likelihood of being a passenger with an intoxicated driver increases significantly with grade. For example, about 40 per cent of 12th graders report having been a passenger with an intoxicated driver.
Page 3 of 3