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Just how common is 'extreme binge drinking'? Parents might be surprised

December 14, 2009 |  3:59 pm

The kind of alcohol consumption that appears to have claimed the life of an 18-year-old South Pasadena student is hardly rare among high school seniors, according to a federal survey of teen drug and alcohol use released Monday.

Until very recently, the yearly survey of drug, alcohol and tobacco use -- called "Monitoring the Future" -- asked eighth, 10th and 12th graders only about "binge drinking," defined as the consumption of five or more drinks in a row. But according to University of Michigan's Lloyd Johnston, who oversees the yearly survey, high school seniors have been asked in recent years about rates of "extreme binge drinking" -- the consumption of more than 10 or more than 15 drinks on a single occasion.

How many do it? Johnston said Monday that in the two weeks before completing the survey, 11% of high school seniors said they had consumed more than 10 alcoholic drinks in a single sitting, and 6% said they had consumed more than 15.

While the rate of binge drinking has come down since its peak in 1983, this "extreme binge drinking" does not seem to have budged much in the years that researchers have followed it, said Johnston on Monday.

Whether South Pasadena's Aydin Salek fell in this category remains to be seen. But extreme binge drinking is extremely risky, and alcohol poisoning is one of the potentially fatal outcomes that are possible as alcohol saturation levels in the blood reach well beyond the .08 level widely used as the basis for drunk-driving arrests.

Other potentially fatal outcomes are even less pretty: because severe inebriation compromises the gag reflex, a person who's passed out after too much alcohol could choke on vomit, or aspirate it into the lungs, causing serious infection. A person gurgling -- or even snoring, as Salek is reported to have done -- may be in respiratory crisis. 

How would you know if someone needs immediate medical attention for possible alcohol poisoning? Here are some things to watch for, including seizures, slowed breathing (fewer than eight breaths per minute), low temperature or a pale or blue-ish tinge to the complexion.

And here's a blood-alcohol level calculator. You'll reach the point of impairment sooner than you may think.

-- Melissa Healy

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Comments (4)

Without regard to this tragic death, I do believe the headline is quite correct: Parent's surprised. We've allowed the MADD folks and other teetotalers -- who are often fundamentalist Christians -- to hijack public policy about alcohol and drive a wedge between parents and children. The drinking age should be lowered back to 18 yo, and parents, then, would not be surprised at the behavior that can occur via alcohol. If parents hosted the parties then they could observe behavior and take precautions to protect their own children as well as others. We've created a forbidden fruit and all the problems associated with that. I blame the moralists and those Nazi who have created this problem and produced these tragic results. Allow teens to drink if they want and have adults supervise them; this is a better way!

Young American adults might be better armed for the travails of alcohol consumption if the culture encouraged the initiation process within adult, formal settings as is done in Europe.
An 18 year old American may marry, own a gun, drive a big rig, fly a plane, vote, marry, fight and die in uniform and many other implied consent 'grown-up' activities, yet they cannot drink legally until they are 21. That's patently absurd, and it cultivates a desire towards extreme misuse of alcohol.

Look, I need to drink a 6 pack just to get hydrated.

My son died of severe alcohol poisoning this year. He was only 15 and I know that our youth are not aware of the fatal consequences of Binge Drinking. I just need to google "Teen Alcohol Poisoning" and I can see that at least one teen a week across the U.S. dies from alcohol poisoning. The awareness needs to raised in every community throughout the U.S. and there are several grass roots movements to create this awareness. It starts with us as parents, but in the end it is making sure that our youth have an understanding of the medical urgency involved in this type of drinking. What to watch for, how do they know when to seek medical assistance for their friend? I wish I knew then, what I know now! I would have been educating my children not just "talking" to them about the dangers of drinking. You can search for teen programs in your area to raise awareness. I am sure there are many. I am not sure what THE answer is, but I am going to try to change the community that I live in and make sure that I reach as many youth as I can with the assistance of community programs. If you can reach just ONE teen, and I can reach ONE, then we can start an educational snowball that can change the way our youth look at Binge Drinking and know that it is not cool and it is not funny and that they can lose their life by doing that one more shot!


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