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Binge drinking—not just a Spring Break worry

Apr 08, 2015 02:00PM ● By Cate Reynolds
March and April are the big Spring Break months in the U.S. You’ve packed your kids off to warmer climes, hope you’ve set a good example, taught them well, and wish for the best. Even when they are away in the supposedly protected environs of their college campuses, you worry about the amount of drinking they may be doing. However, a recent study shows that some of your concern may be better saved for your own friends and contemporaries.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), six Americans die each and every day from drinking too much alcohol in too short a period of time—a cause of death also known as fatal intoxication or alcohol poisoning. But what may be the most shocking aspect of this statistic is just who is most affected. The CDC has determined that 75 percent of the roughly 2,220 annual deaths occur among adults between the ages of 35 and 64. The most likely victims in that group (more than 75 percent of them) were male—and usually white.

The results surprised everyone.

The study was the first of its kind in the agency’s history to study alcohol poisoning death rates by age. Investigators searched death certificates issued between 2010 and 2012 to glean their data.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or above. This typically happens when men consume five or more drinks (or women consume four or more) in about two hours. Interestingly, most people who binge drink are not alcohol dependent.

However, the fact that binge drinking has a lower fatality rate in the young, strong, and otherwise healthy shouldn’t provide much comfort. In the case of binge drinking, what doesn’t kill you, can do you plenty of harm.

Among the startling stats we have gathered is the fact that 11 percent of all the alcohol consumed in the U.S. goes into children between the ages of 12 and 20, according to the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence (NCADD). This organization also reveals that 5,000 young people under the age of 21 die each year as a result of underage drinking. This includes 1,900 deaths from motor vehicle crashes, 1,600 as a result of homicides, 300 from suicides. Not to mention the countless cases of injuries from falls, burns, and drownings—600,000 such incidents involving college students unintentionally injured while under the influence of alcohol, says the NCADD. There are two more worrisome numbers to share from this 65-year-old organization: Approximately 700,000 students are assaulted by other students who have been drinking, and about 100,000 students are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.

Finally, a recently published study by lead author Majid Afshar (an assistant professor at Loyola University Health Systems in Marywood, Illinois) has made a connection between a weakened immune system and binge drinking. The small study, conducted when Afshar was with the University of Maryland, found immune system disruption occurs while alcohol is still in the system. Theoretically, this reaction could make an existing infection worse or allow a new infection to more easily take hold. Research on the connection between alcohol and the immune system continues.

Sitting down with your child and calmly going over all these numbers and findings may be a perfect way to start a conversation on a very volatile subject. But don’t wait too long—every day 11,000 teens in the United States try alcohol for the first time, and more than four million drink alcohol in any given month—illegally, of course.

--Sarah Hagerty
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