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Binge Drinking on the Rise Amongst Teenagers

Avril Swaby

A recent Covenant of Promise Ministries forum has looked at the pervasiveness of binge drinking amongst young people in North York, Ont.

Facilitated by social worker Avril Swaby, the forum was aimed at getting people talking and bringing awareness to a topic that is often overlooked. “Alcohol has become the drug of choice among teenagers and the problem is increasing at an alarming rate,” Swaby says. “I think it’s very timely to have this conversation now and it is something that people need to know about. People tend to see drug abuse as the big thing while they overlook drinking.”

The epidemic of teen drinking cuts across all socio-economic lines and flies under the radar because of the long-accepted habit of social drinking.

“Whether you’re in the lower, middle or upper class, it’s just a matter of alcohol being available for kids to drink. Regardless of who they are, as long as they can get that drink, they are going to have it,” Swaby asserts.

Binge drinking by definition is consuming five or more drinks for men and four or more for women over an exceptionally short period of time. It is more common between the ages of 13 to 18, a stage when teens become more curious and really start drinking.

Jarrett Rainhard of Intervention Toronto says binge drinking is no longer a gender-defined problem, as the number of young girls who are getting involved in heavy consumption of alcohol has increased.

“Drinking was once a boys’ activity and the stereotype was that girls would sit at home and be responsible while the boys would go out and get drunk. But there seems to be a rejection of that stereotype,” Rainhard says, noting that girls metabolize alcohol differently than their male counterparts and get drunk a lot quicker due, in part, to leaner body mass in males.

The overall effect of alcohol on a child’s mental state does not depend on gender, either. Both boys and girls are affected in that they have a low capacity to achieve when too much alcohol is consumed.

“When a person is inhibited, they are not able to achieve to their highest level,” Swaby notes. “They are often anxious and depressed, and find it difficult to get through the day on a normal basis. It’s difficult to get anything out of them because they get agitated easily. These are all warning sign and quite often people around them don’t know what is happening to them and so they are overlooked.”

Peer pressure is a leading factor in teenage binge drinking. However, another disturbing element that compounds the problem is “parents who will allow their kids to drink at home,” says Rainhard. “They say something along the lines of, ‘I would rather know that they are here and I know what they are doing and they are safe.’ Parents aren’t there to be their friends. Parents are there to be parents.”

Rainhard also sees an increasingly techno-savvy society as a major culprit to youth disengagement, which leads to drinking.

“Kids have so many gadgets; look how much time they spend on Facebook, or on their phone. How much time do they actually spend in person with other people? Kids are isolated and they feel alone. So when someone presents them with a social lubricant, they take it,” Rainhard asserts.

Monique Thaxter, a YorkUniversity student and a speaker at the forum, says that Smartserve is in place at a lot of restaurants, including the popular eatery where she works, to act as a deterrent to public intoxication.

Smartserve, which certifies an individual to serve alcohol in a public setting, also places the onus of responsibility on the server. “If you are serving somebody and they are intoxicated, you are legally liable for them in a sense. I adhere to the rules of Smartserve because I don’t want to have somebody’s death on my hands,” says Thaxter, who also acknowledges patrons will find ways to beat the system.

“The social cost to this excessive drinking problem,” Swaby says, “is that we are losing our young people and it is affecting the workplace because people miss time as they are unable to turn up for a shift because they are wasted.”

Rainhard believes the only way of combatting this problem is to keep the lines of communication open. “Some parents go too far and become friends because they are scared of losing that connection to their kid. Then there is the other way where the parent acts as if the teenager is five years old and tries to tell them what to do and it doesn’t work.”

She added that, parents have to find that balance that will allow their child to come to them with anything and still be able to enforce their will. “After all, you are the parent. You set down guidelines, not to hurt your children but to help them.”

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