It's no secret that many people begin using alcohol and other drugs during adolescence. After all, parents often allow their teens to drink; some even buy the alcohol for them. And while teenage binge drinking is slightly declining, dropping 1 percent in 2005, the majority of teens who drink don't perceive that there are health risks associated with the behavior.
That's the mindset despite the highly publicized 2003 death of an LSU student from alcohol poisoning after he consumed an entire bottle of rum in his off-campus apartment.
The University of Michigan's annual Monitoring the Future study found that in 2005 the proportions of 8th, 10th and 12th graders who admitted drinking an alcoholic beverage in the 30-day period prior to being surveyed were 17 percent, 33 percent and 47 percent, respectively.
Most parents recognize that alcohol poisoning (with typical symptoms like violent vomiting, extreme sleepiness, unconsciousness, difficulty breathing, dangerously low blood sugar, seizures and even death) can result from binge drinking. But they often don't stop to think about other factors, like that teens who drink are more likely to be sexually active and have unsafe, unprotected sex; that half of drowning deaths among teens are alcohol related; how alcohol use increases the chance of them being involved in a homicide. Or committing suicide.
And the long-accepted assumption that people can drink heavily for many years before suffering considerable neurological injury has been proven wrong in recent years.
Alcohol is a depressant that slows the function of the central nervous system, and because teens are still developing physically, they are particularly vulnerable, says Ken Benedik, a UL Lafayette health instructor. "Their brains are not fully developed yet, and as a result it halts the maturation process," says Benedik, who's also a licensed counselor and addiction counselor who treats teens in his private practice. "It's like their level of maturity stops at that point. You have a 40-year-old man still thinking like a 15- or 16-year-old."
One of the country's foremost researchers on the effects of alcohol and other drugs on youths, Duke University Medical Center Assistant Research Professor Aaron White, Ph.D., says there is growing evidence that alcohol affects adult and adolescent brains differently.
Heavy drinking among teens impacts more than just grades and social skills; preliminary data suggests that adolescents might be more vulnerable than adults to impairments following repeated alcohol exposure, according to White. The researcher says alcohol affects the adolescents' frontal lobes, which are critical to planning, decision-making and impulse control, and also points to evidence that the drug may damage the hippocampus, which is key to memory formation.
Unfortunately for local teens, cultures like that in Louisiana view drinking as "a rite of passage into adulthood," says Benedik, who believes there are a number of additional reasons teens may turn to alcohol. Those include pressures from society, peers and their parents, who put too much emphasis on excelling. "The pain it relieves is the pain of shame," he says. "Parents want their kids to succeed, but they often define success in monetary terms."
Additionally, adults sometimes have the "we grew up drinking, and we turned out all right" attitude, Benedik notes. And while it may sound trite and is no excuse for underage drinking, bygone days were simpler times, he insists. "The world is now more complex, and kids try to escape those complexities." Today's parents tend to focus too much on raising well-rounded, enriched children who will go to top colleges (when the students may favor attending a trade school) and in the process sometimes lose sight of the fact that kids just need to be kids. "Four or five guys going outside to play baseball, a Saturday afternoon baseball game, is different than being in a league where you have parents and coaches screaming on the sidelines," he says.
In his counseling practice, Benedik sees youths who might be enrolled in up to 10 organized activities and often asks them whether they would want to drop out of any. They "almost always" want to simplify their lives. "The other thing is it makes the parents' lives a lot less stressful," he adds.
Good communication is the key to raising children who will be less inclined to escape into a life of alcohol and drugs. "Kids talk to your parents, and parents talk to your kids. There'll be some drop off when they're teenagers, but the communication doesn't shut off," Benedik says, encouraging parents to accept that their teens are likely to mimic peers on TV by talking in sound bites.
To combat the problem locally, nonprofit education and counseling center The Family Tree is working with various community agencies, businesses and individuals as part of its Communities Mobilizing for Change on Alcohol initiative. CMCA is funded through the Lafayette Parish School System's Safe Schools/Healthy Students grant.
Lindsay Rogers, a social worker at The Family Tree and CMCA's co-coordinator, says the program aims to reduce 13- to 20-year-olds' access to alcohol by changing community policies and practices. In an effort to gain an understanding of attitudes about underage drinking and the extent of the problem, CMCA is conducting extensive surveys of adults and adolescents throughout the community. (For more information on CMCA and The Family Tree, call 237-2160.)
In Acadiana, the problem of underage drinking that often starts in the home is likely to find its solution in the same place, but Benedik does issue words of caution to parents. While he hopes parents and other adults realize the adverse effects alcohol can have on teens and their health, the counselor says safety should be a parent's first priority when dealing with a teenager who has been drinking. "The most important message is, 'If something happens and you have been drinking, call me and I will come get you. No questions asked. Just don't drive home.'"
Casual cool for Thanksgiving
Shop Lafayette goes strong
The fight to clean up Lafayette Parish could get some added ammunition with two ordinances up for votes Tuesday by the City-Parish Council targeting litter-bugs.
A divided 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal reversed a Lafayette district judge’s ruling absolving the co-owner of a New Iberia accounting firm of liability in an embezzlement case.
Our View: It’s reasonable, temporary and invests in Lafayette’s future.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
By striking a deal to lessen the blow of health insurance changes on state workers, school employees and retirees, Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration lowered the volume of criticism but gave itself and local school boards a new budget headache.
With the airport tax coming up for a parishwide vote in about a week, the Broussard City Council and its mayor have come out in support of the proposal.
Protesters rallied peacefully in several Louisiana cities in the wake of the Missouri grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in the fatal shooting of Michal Brown.
Three bedroom in Port Barre or two bedroom in Opelousas
US cities bidding on Olympics; Guard prevents more Ferguson riots; storm threatens travel and more national and international news for Wednesday, November 26, 2014.
Wednesday's Blogs from the Bog!
The U.S. rep billed LSU for work allegedly performed on the same days Congress voted on major legislation and held important committee hearings on energy and the ACA.
“I am only getting a little nervous about two projects — the proposed Sasol GTL facility [not the new ethylene plant] and the proposed G2X facility — both in Lake Charles. They need a hefty difference between oil and natural gas prices to make sense.”
Abysmally low participation by the public has prompted the council to scuttle the 2014 survey with plans to simplify it and try again next year.
The village now says the ordinance will likely be overturned and authorities will more vigorously enforce existing leash laws.
Lower oil prices also might slow the growth of oil production in parts of the U.S., Canada and elsewhere because it will no longer be so profitable.
Bill Cassidy cast an early ballot Tuesday, seeking to draw renewed attention to a race that has fallen off newspaper front pages and away from people's minds as they plan holiday meals and shopping schedules.
A Lafayette woman faces up to 20 years in prison for running up more than $1 million in unauthorized charges to her company credit card.
Signs that our state’s banking industry is undergoing a downsizing in 2014 were further confirmed today with the FDIC’s latest figures showing a third straight quarter in which Louisiana lost more banks and earned less money.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
State police say a 47-year-old Lafayette man, who collected more than $83,000 in disability benefits, is accused of operating two businesses out of his home at a time when he claimed he had no income.
Battered all night by Baltimore's relentless pass rush, Drew Brees could feel his protection collapsing and Terrell Suggs getting ahold of him as he urgently unloaded a pass to the right flat toward tight end Jimmy Graham.
After a convincing defeat at the polls on Nov. 4, Earl “Nickey” Picard has decided to let bygones be bygones with his former right-hand man Brian Pope, announcing his support for his former employee’s runoff bid to become Lafayette’s next city marshal.
Saturday the athletic department did everything possible to ensure the 2014 Ragin’ Cajun seniors remembered fondly their last home game. Rain and lightning never arrived but turbulence did in the form of the Appalachian State Mountaineers.
Even stranger than the Republican Party’s decision to hold a “unity rally” earlier this month for Congressman Bill Cassidy in a Baton Rouge bar, Huey’s Bar, was the fact that the establishment was named after Louisiana’s most famous Democrat.
Bar Code is not a gay bar.
After failing to pass a medical marijuana bill last year, state Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, is telling supporters he will return in 2015 with legislation that focuses on different applications like oils and pills.
Voters, obviously, are not yet tuned into the 2015 ballot, despite the intriguing races it will host.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.