Addiction and Recovery
By Bob Gaydos
Summertime can be fun for teenagers. For starters, there's no school for most of them. And, even if they’ve got a job, there’s plenty of time to hang out with friends. Go to the beach. Movies. Parties.
But lots of free time and limited responsibilities can also come with risks, especially if the fun often revolves around drinking. The legal drinking age may be 21 in this country, but underage drinking is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as “a major public health problem.”
According to the CDC: “Alcohol is the most commonly used and abused drug among youth in the United States ... and is responsible for more than 4,300 annual deaths among underage youth. Although drinking by persons under the age of 21 is illegal, people aged 12 to 20 years drink 11 percent of all alcohol consumed in the United States.” Much of that is binge drinking.
Along with those deaths, there are tens of thousands of alcohol-related emergency room visits by teenagers each year. Parental indifference to their children's behavior and the friends they choose or ignorance of the harm alcohol can do to young minds and bodies are key factors in the way many teenagers spend their free time. But teens aren't wholly clueless about their behavior. In fact, it's not unthinkable that a teenager whose social life revolves around alcohol has asked himself or herself if, just maybe, drinking is becoming a problem.
What follows may help answer that question. For teens wondering about their use of alcohol or other drugs, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence has prepared a self-assessment test to help determine if they -- or someone they know -- is at risk and in need of help.
Remember, this test is for teens. Read each question carefully and be honest. Consider your actions over the past 12 months. Answer yes or no and be sure to answer every question.
NCADD Self-Test for Teenagers:
1. Do you use alcohol or other drugs to build self-confidence?
2. Do you ever drink or get high immediately after you have a problem at home or at school?
3. Have you ever missed school due to alcohol or other drugs?
4. Does it bother you if someone says that you use too much alcohol or other drugs?
5. Have you started hanging out with a heavy drinking or drug using crowd?
6. Are alcohol and/or other drugs affecting your reputation?
7. Do you feel guilty or bummed out after using alcohol or other drugs?
8. Do you feel more at ease on a date when drinking or using other drugs?
9. Have you gotten into trouble at home for using alcohol or other drugs?
10. Do you borrow money or "do without" other things to buy alcohol and other drugs?
11. Do you feel a sense of power when you use alcohol or other drugs?
12. Have you lost friends since you started using alcohol or other drugs?
13. Do your friends use “less” alcohol and/or other drugs than you do?
14. Do you drink or use other drugs until your supply is all gone?
15. Do you ever wake up and wonder what happened the night before?
16. Have you ever been busted or hospitalized due to alcohol or use of illicit drugs?
17. Do you "turn off" any studies or lectures about alcohol or illicit drug use?
18. Do you think you have a problem with alcohol or other drugs?
19. Has there ever been someone in your family with a drinking
or other drug problem? Yes No
20. Could you have a problem with alcohol or other drugs? Yes No
Number of Yes answers
Zero-2: May not be an immediate problem. Continue to monitor.
3-5: You may be at risk for developing alcoholism and/or drug dependence. You should consider arranging a personal meeting with a professional who has experience in the evaluation of alcohol and drug problems.
More than 5: You should seek professional help. You may have a serious level of alcohol and/or drug related problems requiring immediate attention and possible treatment.
There are, of course, ongoing efforts to reduce underage drinking, including stricter enforcement of the law, advertising campaigns on the dangers of alcohol abuse by teens and school and community-based educational classes. These are all potentially helpful, but while the effectiveness of these efforts is being evaluated, a bit of old-fashioned, honest, self-assessment may be a teenager’s best defense.
A double dose of danger
Energy drinks, beverages that are loaded with caffeine, other plant-based stimulants, simple sugars, and other additives are popular among young people. The CDC says they are regularly consumed by 31 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds and 34 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds. When not abused, they may seem comparatively harmless, but they are also often combined with alcohol, resulting in a cocktail with potentially serious consequences.
According to the CDC:
- When alcoholic beverages are mixed with energy drinks, the caffeine in these drinks can mask the depressant effects of alcohol. At the same time, caffeine has no effect on the metabolism of alcohol by the liver and thus does not reduce breath alcohol concentrations or reduce the risk of alcohol-attributable harms.
- Drinkers who consume alcohol mixed with energy drinks are three times more likely to binge drink (based on breath alcohol levels) than drinkers who do not report mixing alcohol with energy drinks.
- Drinkers who consume alcohol with energy drinks are about twice as likely as drinkers who do not report mixing alcohol with energy drinks to report being taken advantage of sexually, to report taking advantage of someone else sexually, and to report riding with a driver who was under the influence of alcohol.