Back to school brings risk for binge drinkers

As children and young adults across the country head back to school this week, this is a timely opportunity to discuss the risks and statistics surrounding binge drinking among teenagers and post secondary students.

Most people look back on their college years with fondness for the friends they made and the experiences shared in social settings as well as in the classroom. However, this time of new independence can often get young people into risky situations involving excessive alcohol consumption.

Statistics indicate that as many as four in every five post secondary students drink and that about half of them engage in heavy episodic drinking. In fact, young people between the ages of 18 and 25 have the highest prevalence of binge and heavy drinking of any age group and no surprise, a lot of this happens on campuses and in post secondary settings.

Binge drinking is usually defined as having five or more drinks in a row for men or four or more for women. This may or may not sound like a lot as you read it, but this kind of drinking is considered a major public health problem and can result in health problems or a life-long problem with alcohol use.

In the US it is estimated that 1,700 post secondary students die each year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries such as car accidents. More than half a million are injured each year under the influence of alcohol in the US and almost 700,000 are violently assaulted by another student who has been drinking and 100,000 fall victim to alcohol-related sexual assault.

Obviously, these statistics alone show that alcohol use by students is causing significant problems, but unfortunately, the risks don't end with acts of impulsiveness and violence. A recent study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry found that 18 per cent of post secondary students experienced clinically significant alcohol-related problems.

When you throw in a co-existing mental health condition such as depression, the numbers increase. One in three depressed people suffer from some form of substance abuse or dependence. Since young adulthood is often when depression or other mental health disorders develop, it is a particularly high risk time for substance use as well. Very often, people will attempt to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol in order to try and feel normal or battle their feelings of depression and anxiety.

Using alcohol and drugs as a coping mechanism doesn't usually provide any real help and can simply complicate matters by adding an addiction onto the existing difficulties with every day life. Also, depressed individuals who also abuse substances are at a much higher risk of committing suicide than those who do not have a substance dependence.

Although the statistics I have shared today apply to post-secondary students, high school is also a time when binge drinking can become a problem. It's likely no surprise to learn that many teenagers engage in risky drinking behaviour and this kind of activity at such a young age can pave the way for more serious problems later in life. Of course, it can also negatively affect the individual's performance at school and in other areas of life at a time when performance can affect future opportunities.

Peer pressure, school stress or simply not thinking about potential consequences to actions can all contribute to why a young adult may decide to engage in binge or heavy drinking. I encourage all young people to find other ways of dealing with stress and enjoying a weekend. If you are going to drink, please do it responsibly - for your own health and safety as well as for the safety of those around you.

Parents, if you are concerned about the drinking behaviour of your teenager or post secondary child, try to talk with them about it openly. If you are unsuccessful, consider seeking the help of a professional to give you advice on how to deal with the situation.


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