Young. Eager. And Drunk.
A 12-year-old binger? Believe it. Alcohol abuse starts early.
May 15, 2000 -- What should a grade-school girl do if Uncle Joe shows up at
school to drive her home and he's reeking of alcohol? What should a
sixth-grader do when his schoolmates open up a six-pack and offer him a
For parents who think young children are protected from such decisions, it
may be time to think again. Although an alarming increase in college binge
drinking has been in the spotlight recently, the evidence from government and
private research shows that problems with alcohol begin much earlier than
A 1999 national survey from the University of Michigan shows that 51% of
high school seniors, 40% of 10th graders, and 24% of 8th graders had used
alcohol in the past month. One-third of high school seniors admitted to
bingeing in the past month, as did more than a quarter of 10th graders and 15%
of 8th graders surveyed. Binge drinking is defined as having four or more
drinks at one sitting for females and five or more for males.
Spotting the Problem
Counselor Lori Huggins has seen the problem firsthand. She directs YouthLink
at the nonprofit Oregon
Partnership, where programs include a teen-to-teen hotline, an up-to-date
list of resources, tips for parents, and a newly launched junior high
Huggins' grassroots view of alcohol use comes from many hours spent in high
school classes and in teen-parent meetings. Several times a week she poses this
question to a class full of high school students: "Nationally, students
supposedly have their first drink between 12 and 14. Do you think that's
accurate?" Every time at least three-quarters of the hands go up to agree,
From high school students, Huggins has learned how often drinking habits
turn dangerous. According to the Oregon Partnership, up to 20% of all 14- to
17-year-olds have a serious alcohol problem.
Although high school students' reasons for drinking are mainly social,
stress-related, or "just to have fun," Huggins says peer pressure plays
a bigger role in drinking for 12- to 14-year olds -- the age when drinking is
most likely to start. So the Oregon program is training high school students to
talk with younger students. "Teens are more apt to listen to other teens,
particularly those just a little older," she says.