December 1, 2016
Happy Holidays! Here is our December Newsletter, just in time for the holidays and Winter Break.
Dear Be the Influence (“BTI”) Parents:
This newsletter will focus on ALCOHOL, given the holiday season and the fact that Marin County has one of the highest rates of drinking, including binge drinking, among both teens – and adults – in the state of California.
This month’s newsletter covers the following topics:
Health Effects and Other Risks of Alcohol on Teens
Recent Social Host Ordinance Citations
Parenting Tips Over Winter Break and New Year’s Eve
Survey on Prom Party Buses
Help Us Update our Technology!
As you may know, BTI is a volunteer run organization - with no budget! As we've expanded into more schools this year, our technology needs have expanded. We need to create a new unified and secure database to accommodate the needs of our existing and additional schools. As a result, we are seeking to raise $3,845. In this Season of Giving, please support us by donating - any amount is appreciated! Simply go to http://gofundme/fund-be-the-influence. Thank you!!
Please read on!
Survey on Prom Party Buses
After reading this Newsletter, we would appreciate it if parents in any of the five Tam H.S. District schools could take a short 5-question survey on Prom party buses at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/9FMWTTM
Questions or Comments? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, we welcome your feedback.
HOW TEENS CONSUME ALCOHOL
Alcohol is the most widely used drug in the U.S. and is so common and accepted in our society that most people don’t think of it as a drug. Likewise, it is the number one drug of choice among American teens. Kids use alcohol to get drunk - often very drunk. When teens consume alcohol, few do so wisely and limit themselves to one social drink. There is generally no such thing as responsible teen drinking of alcohol. “Moderate”, “careful” and “prudent” do not typically describe adolescent drinking.
Today’s teen drinking does not merely involve chugging several beers or gulping down sweet wine, as was the case back in our day. Instead, teens often take multiple shots or swigs from “handles” of hard liquor such as vodka, bourbon, whiskey, gin and scotch.
It is not uncommon for teens to drink to the point of vomiting or passing or “blacking” out. Blackouts are a temporary loss of memory resulting from binge drinking. Adolescents seem more prone to blackouts than adults. Blackouts can lead to problems such as unintended or unwanted sexual activity, injury or death. Emergency Room transports are not uncommon among teens these days. An excellent recent New York Times article describes this phenomenon on college campuses at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/19/opinion/drinking-to-blackout.html.
Binge drinking. According to the most recent 2015-16 California Healthy Kids Survey results, in Marin County, 24% of public school 11th graders have consumed five or more drinks in a few hours in the past 30 days. In the Tamalpais Union HS District, this binge drinking number is significantly higher than the County averages at 34%. Additionally, 40% of Marin County public school 11th graders and 51% of Tam District 11th graders report being "very drunk or sick after drinking alcohol" in their lifetime.
Binge Drinking is defined for boys as consuming five or more drinks and for girls four or more drinks in about two hours. More than 90% of the alcohol consumed by teens is done by binge drinking. Binge drinking is responsible for over half of the 88,000 deaths in the U.S. each year from alcohol. Teens who binge drink are three times more likely to binge drink as adults.
Today’s teen drinking too often results in deaths, especially when alcohol is mixed with prescription pills or other drugs. In Marin, a teen or young adult has died of alcohol or other drugs at an alarming rate of every two to four weeks for the past several years. In 2012-13, the rate was every two weeks and this didn’t include those Marin teens and young adults who died while away at college or those who had no toxicology results.
Over the past 15 years, drug related ER visits and deaths in Marin have tripled. For this reason, Marin County’s Public Health Officer, Matt Willis, who has a child at Drake H.S., has called teen alcohol and other drug use in Marin “an ongoing public health crisis.” See “A Dangerous Game” at http://www.marinmagazine.com/September-2016/Dangerous-Game/
Large Parties and Party Buses. Almost 75% of teen drinkers drink at parties hosted by other teens. These parties are not benign where a few pizzas get ordered or where close friends gather around a good movie. Instead, these parties are the ones where adults look the other way as teens drink and use other drugs in copious amounts; or where kids wait until their parents go away for the weekend and then stage an epic bash. Or they are the rolling parties on wheels - on party buses. Parties are not inherently “bad” - but the alcohol and other drugs typically present when unsupervised parties occur lead to extremely risky behavior.
Drinking Games. Drinking games such as Beer Pong (also called Beirut), Flip Cup, Screw the Dealer, Power Hour and Edward Fortyhands are popular games and lead to excessive drinking among teens.
Types of Alcohol Specifically Marketed to Teens. “Alcopops” are sweet, teen friendly drinks such as Smirnoff Ice, Bacardi Breezer and Mike’s Hard Lemonade. They are marketed to teens and have more alcohol than beer. Flavored ciders and alcoholic ginger beers also have gained in popularity. Teens often mix hard liquor with soda, juice or other beverages that disguise the smell and taste of the alcohol. Clear liquor such as vodka are often poured into water bottles to escape detection.
Caffeinated Alcohol Beverages and Mixing Alcohol with Energy Drinks. Caffeinated alcohol beverages may be malt liquor or distilled spirits and usually have higher alcohol content than beer. An example used to be Four Loko which was marketed to teens until it was banned in several states and by the the FDA. Four Loko was then reintroduced without caffeine and no longer marketed as an energy drink but is now flavored with lemonade, fruit punch and watermelon flavors.
More common these days is the use of energy drinks as chasers or mixers for hard liquor. An example is Red Bull. Energy drinks typically contain caffeine, other plant based stimulants, simple sugars and other additives. Called a “wide awake drunk”, the caffeine rush makes the drinker look and feel more balanced and coordinated so they don’t believe they are drunk. The stimulants create a “sobering effect” which makes the drinker feel as if they can drink more and stay out all night. Energy drinks essentially mask the depressive effects of alcohol and signs of inebriation.
Energy and alcohol drinkers are three times more likely to binge drink, four times more likely to think they can drive, and twice more likely to report riding with a driver who was under the influence or being taken advantage of sexually. Mixing alcohol with energy drinks causes more dehydration, alcohol poisoning, ER visits and hospitalizations, is more addictive and results in adolescent brain damage.
Delay, Delay, Delay! Not every teen who drinks is going to become an alcoholic or get rushed to the ER. Many parents used alcohol as teens and came out just fine, and many still use alcohol in responsible and controlled ways. A majority of teens follow the same pattern. Yet the younger a person starts using alcohol, the more likely abuse or addiction will develop. The percentage of teenage abuse of alcohol increases by nearly 50% between the ages of 14 and 18, and one out of 13 teens will get into trouble with alcohol abuse or become addicted later in life.
HEALTH EFFECTS AND OTHER RISKS OF ALCOHOL ON TEENS
Alcohol has a more profound and lasting effect on adolescents than it does on mature adults, who have completed their growth cycles. Alcohol abuse can disrupt the normal development of the body’s vital systems during adolescence, which can have lifelong effects.
Effects of Alcohol as a Depressant. Alcohol is a depressant which slows down the central nervous system. The central nervous system is composed of the brain and the spinal cord, and controls everything that happens, consciously and unconsciously, in the body, including heart rate and breathing. In addition to the respiratory and circulatory systems, alcohol affects the digestive, endocrine, reproductive, muscular and skeletal systems. Alcohol disrupts the ability to react to stimuli in a timely manner. It numbs the brain by releasing chemicals that shut off pain and other discomfort centers and release additional chemicals that enhance the pleasure centers of the brain.
Common depressants include opium, codeine, morphine, heroin and alcohol. Depressants are physically addicting and can irreparably damage vital organs if taken for long periods. Unlike heroin, alcohol causes damage to every vital organ in the body (although heroin is more addictive than alcohol).
Effect on the Teen Brain. Alcohol, like other substances of abuse increases the levels of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is the chemical messenger (neurotransmitter) that produces feelings of pleasure and excitement. Brains of repeat users are “rewired” becoming predisposed to cravings. For some teens, this happens more quickly and more profoundly. Long-term abuse of alcohol can rewire the pleasure/reward system of the brain so that normal pleasurable activities that once stimulated these pathways (enjoying a good movie or concert, getting straight A’s, etc.) are no longer sufficient. As a result, to increase dopamine levels and experiences resulting in pleasure, the addict needs to use drugs.
Alcohol can negatively impact adolescent brain development. Teens who drink heavily can savage their memory, attention span and spatial skills. Alcohol-dependent kids fare worse on language and memory tests. Alcohol is a more potent blocker of learning in adolescents than in adults. The hippocampus, which is the brain region critical for forming new memories, is particularly affected by alcohol use during adolescence.. Youth who drink show reduced brain response and score worse than non-drinkers on vocabulary, general information, memory and memory retrieval tests.
Poor School Performance. Adolescents who abuse alcohol remember ten percent less of what they have learned in a given period of time than those who don’t drink. This occurs with occasional heavy drinking, also known as “party use”. Says the UCSD research who conducted this research, “I like to think of it as the difference between an A and a B”. Damage to adolescent brains results in very specific areas related to academic function. Teen alcoholism and school failure are linked. A survey of 18 to 24 year olds who failed to complete high school showed that nearly 60% of them began drinking before age 16.
Binge drinking. Binge drinking increases the risk for permanent alterations in brain functions. Studies show that the hippocampus is smaller in adults who drank heavily during their teenage years. The hippocampus is responsible for memory, emotions and motivation. Introducing large amounts of alcohol to the brain during those years disrupts brain development and can lead to permanently reduced brain function.
MRI images reveal that young binge drinkers show poorer white matter (called myelin) quality than non-drinkers. White matter accumulates around nerve cells. This process called myelination enables nerve cells to transmit information faster and allows for more complex brain function. During adolescence, myelination is occurring in the brain’s frontal lobe, which is the area responsible for a person’s
ability to pay attention, plan, reason, make decisions and inhibit impulses more efficiently to demonstrate greater self-control. This is the brain region that is the last to develop. Studies from 2011 report that damage to the brains of binge drinking teens and young adults results in cortical thinning in the pre-frontal cortex. Damage to this section of the brain can also impair prospective memory, which is the ability to remember and carry out an activity at some future point, such as doing homework.
Girls are more vulnerable. One drink for a girl has about twice the effect of one drink for a boy. This is because female bodies process alcohol more slowly than males. Girls tend to weigh less than boys and a female’s body contains less water and more fatty tissue than a male’s. Because fat retains alcohol while water dilutes it, alcohol remains at higher concentrations for longer periods of time in a female body, exposing a female brain and other organs to more alcohol. Additionally, females have lower levels of two enzymes that metabolize alcohol, and as a result females absorb more alcohol into their bloodstreams. Girls ages twelve to sixteen who drink alcohol are four more times likely to suffer from depression.
Finally, females have an accelerated course of alcohol dependence, meaning that they generally advance from their first drink to their first alcohol-related problem to the need for treatment more quickly than males.
Sexual Activity and Assault. Alcohol places teens in risky circumstances and relationships. It is frequently tied to cases of date rape, sexual assault, regretted sex, sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, and unwanted pregnancies. Alcohol leads to loss of social inhibition and intoxication places a girl or boy at increased risk for sexual contact because of reduced judgment and self-control. Men who have been drinking alcohol commit approximately one-half of all sexual assaults. Women whose partners abuse alcohol are 3.6 times more likely to be assaulted by their partners.
Violence. Alcohol use is shown to promote assaults, quarrels and other violence, especially among boys. Teens who engaged in binge drinking were four times more likely to have been in a physical fight in the past year than teens that did not drink. Each year in the U.S., over 900,000 four-year college students are hit or assaulted by other students who have been drinking. Between 50-80% of violence on campus is alcohol related.
Effect on Males. Alcohol use lowers testosterone levels and other reproductive hormones in males. These hormones are important to normal body functions, including growth, development, metabolism and reproduction.
Alcohol can be lethal. A single instance of alcohol use can kill if enough is consumed at one time. Alcohol poisoning kills because alcohol shuts down parts of the brain controlling breathing and other “automatic” actions. When high levels of alcohol are consumed, the body may begin to rid itself of the “poison” through vomiting. However high concentrations of alcohol can cause inhalation of the vomited material into the lungs. This can cause infection and death.
Teens need to be aware that a person who is passed out from drinking can die. They should never leave the person alone or let them sleep, eat any food or take a cold shower. Vomiting should never be encouraged due to the risks of blocking the airway or causing the person to inhale the material that has been vomited.
It is particularly dangerous to mix alcohol with harder drugs andother medications. More than 150 medications, including antidepressant, cold and allergy medications, pose potential dangers when mixed with alcohol. When alcohol and other drugs are mixed (called polysubstance abuse) they can potentially react with each other to create powerful and legal overdoses. As described above, prescription pills such as Xanax or Adderall combined with alcohol are especially dangerous and have led to numerous deaths in Marin.
Of the reported suicides by children ages nine to fifteen, 28% have been attributed to alcohol. One in four of children who take their lives does so under the influence of alcohol or because of alcohol related circumstances. Alcohol plays a role in over 300 teen suicides each year.
Alcohol appears to be less sedating in teens than adults. Teens who drink may be less likely than adults to feel sleepy and therefore more likely to drink more as well as believe they are able to drive. Crashes are more likely among teen drinkers than adult drinkers. Alcohol is the cause of 60% of all teen deaths in car accidents. Over 40% of all drunken driving fatalities involve teenagers.
Genetics. Children of alcoholics have a 4-10 times greater risk of becoming alcoholic. It is crucial to explain to your teen any history of alcohol or addiction in your family history, especially close family lie aunts, uncles and grandparents.
In sum, these are just a sampling of the risks and harmful effects of alcohol. Any other product with as many defects and potential harm as those of alcohol would be banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and immediately removed from store shelves. People would be suing manufacturers for damages. Yet we seem to make exceptions for alcohol.
THE DEBATE ON ALLOWING TEENS TO DRINK AT HOME
Many parents believe that teen drinking is an inevitable "rite of passage" and there is nothing they can do about it. Some of these parents believe that it is better to have their kids drinking under their roof than to have them drinking elsewhere or driving. Most of these parents turn a blind eye and some even completely give up and party with their kids. Others believe that the best way to teach their children to use alcohol responsibly as adults is to start teaching them when they are young.
There is no scientific research to support the idea that allowing children to drink at home will prevent them from binge drinking outside the home. While taking the keys away or hosting a sleepover after allowing drinking or other drug use in the home may achieve these goals in the short term, the research shows these actions are counterproductive in the long term.
An NIH paper published in July 2014 examined 22 studies on the issue of parents providing alcohol for youth or providing a place to party. The paper concluded that “there is little research evidence to support the notion that it is even possible to ‘teach children to drink alcohol responsibly”.
The European Myth. In Europe, many countries have no minimum drinking age; in those that do, the minimum age range from 16-18 years old. Studies have shown that in virtually every European country except Turkey (which is Muslim) teens binge drink at higher rates than in the U.S. The rate of binge drinking among teens in Ireland, the United Kingdom, Germany and Switzerland is more than twice the rate of binge drinking among teens in the US. The rate in Denmark is even higher.
The paper quoted three studies in 2004, 2010 and 2012 and found that “parents might believe they are keeping their children and their children’s friends safe by allowing them to drink in their home. This is not the case. Adolescents who attend parties where parents supply alcohol are at increased risk for heavy episodic drinking, alcohol and related problems and drinking and driving.” For an excellent article on the effects of different parenting styles, see http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/09/how-helicopter-parents-cause-binge-drinking/492722/
LEGAL CONSEQUENCES OF TEEN ALCOHOL USE
In addition to social host citations discussed below, teens can suffer legal consequences for underage possession, consumption, purchase of alcohol or public intoxication under “minor in possession”, “open container” and other laws. These consequences can be in the form of infractions or misdemeanors. Misdemeanors potentially have to be disclosed in college applications.
Additionally, teens under the age of 21 cannot drive with a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.01% or higher. Even if teens are nowhere near a car, they still can have their driver’s licenses suspended, restricted or delayed for up to one year for each offense related to the possession, consumption or purchase of alcohol.
DUI'S. Over the holiday period, there will be an increased presence of law enforcement on highways and streets with checkpoints coordinated by Marin’s DUI Task Force. Beyond holiday periods, CHP and other local police departments have zero tolerance for driving under the influence. CHP also strictly enforces an 11 pm curfew for drivers with “provisional” driver’s licenses (during the first year) as well as restrictions on new drivers driving other teens.
Recent Social Host Citations Involving Alcohol and Teens. Social Host Citations are in effect throughout Marin County and impose liability on homeowners who host gatherings with alcohol that are attended by minors. Depending on the jurisdiction, they may also be levied against teens. Fines range from $750 to $2,500. Additionally, the County and other jurisdictions impose on teens and adults community service hours through a restorative justice program. The County also recently amended its ordinance to to include marijuana and other controlled substances. Other Marin cities and towns are considering whether to follow the County and also to include drinking and other drug use on party buses.
Two Social Host Citations recently were issued in Larkspur by the Central Marin Police Authority (“CPMA”). CPMA and other jurisdictions in Marin issue press releases, as well as post on Nextdoor and Nixel, on social host violations with the block and street named. Additionally, if a teen is 18 years or over, the minor and family will be identified publicly by name.
On Friday afternoon, November 11th, CMPA officers were called to the 900 block of Magnolia Avenue for a loud party. While standing outside the residence officers could hear juveniles inside. The 17-year old hostess met the officers at the door, said that her parents were not at home and refused to allow them inside. At the officer’s request she contacted her father by phone and he gave them permission to enter the home. Ten teens in the house were found to have consumed a small amount alcohol. Their parents were notified. The 17-year old was issued an administrative citation for violation of Larkspur’s Social Host Accountability Ordinance.
On Saturday, November 12th at 12:30 a.m. officers responded to a noise complaint coming from a home in the 400 block of Riviera Circle. Officers could see numerous juveniles in the backyard and several inside the house. When they rang the doorbell they heard a male voice say “Don’t open the door” and the sounds of glass or bottles being gathered up. The door was finally opened by the 17 year-old male resident. His eyes were red and watery and he had a strong odor of alcohol on his breath. Officers could also smell the odor of both alcohol and marijuana coming from inside the house.
The teen was joined at the door by his father who said that there were about 20 of his son’s Redwood H.S. football teammates celebrating the win of a playoff game. The man would not allow officers entry into the home and said that he didn’t think the teens were drinking alcohol but that he would check. Based on the number of juveniles at the location, the odor of alcohol and marijuana, and the teen displaying the objective signs of intoxication, the man was issued a Social Host Accountability citation.
PARENTING TIPS OVER WINTER BREAK AND NEW YEAR’S EVE
With final exams behind them and after spending extended amounts of “family time” during the holidays, teens will be itching to go out! A little extra parental vigilance will go a long way – as well saying “no” to situations about which you don’t feel comfortable.
Principals from our high schools have emailed parents about holiday celebrations, given Marin’s high rates of binge drinking by both teens and adults. Redwood Principal’s letter is at http://www.tamdistrict.org/cms/lib8/CA01000875/Centricity/Domain/146/HolidayCelebrationsLtr.pdf. Marin Catholic’s letter is at http://www.marincatholic.org/podium/push/default.aspx?i=54546&s=612&snd=befc8ef9-c27a-498b-8076-2c50e2495200
“Just Say No” to Party Buses. Party Buses are especially popular on New Year’s
Eve. They can be even more conducive to binge drinking other drug use and risky behavior than unsupervised parties. Although several deaths led to legislation in California regulating party buses effective in 2013, such as including chaperones at least 25 years old, some bus drivers ignore these requirements and unfortunate incidents continue to occur.
Be Wary of Large Parties, Parties with Older Teens and Sleepovers. Freshmen parents in particular should say “not yet” to large parties. For sleepovers, use the BTI Parent List to reach out to other parents! And continue to use the BTI Parent List for parties attended by older teens, even if you have lost control over where they go once they drive. An excellent read is “Where’s The Party?” by Jonathan Scott and Kelly Townsend, which has practical tips for what to do when your teen goes to a party and how to host one.
As mentioned above, this past summer, police intercepted a typical party bus loaded with young teens and copious “jaw dropping” amounts of hard alcohol, marijuana and prescription drugs. This party bus incident was not an isolated one but rather was typical. Alcohol and other drugs are smuggled into party buses as wrapped gifts, water bottles, plastic flasks attached to underwear or concealed under clothing and in backpacks and purses.
Set a Reasonable Curfew and Check-Ins. Establish clear rules for the evening in advance, including check-ins, especially if a party or a sleepover is part of the plan. Also know what your teen is doing during the day, as many parents will be working outside of the home. Be sure an adult is present and supervising.
Don’t Place Absolute Trust in Designated Drivers! California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS) results from 2015-16 show that too many so-called designated drivers are simply less drunk or high than their passengers. In Marin County, 31% of 11th graders admitted to either driving in a car when they had been drinking or being a passenger in a car with a driver who had been drinking.
Say “Not Yet” or Keep Track of Uber rides. Using Uber has become increasingly popular with adults and teens alike. While certainly safer than driving drunk or drugged, Uber rides enable extreme levels of drinking and other drug use. Uber drives also enable teens to go wherever they want (such as to large parties or clubs in the city) before they are able to drive. Accordingly, don’t allow Uber rides for younger teens without drivers licenses whenever you can be driving them – even if using Uber is more convenient. For older teens, keep track of how frequently your teen is using Uber. If its frequent, alarm bells should be ringing.
Check for Hidden Stashes and Fake IDs. Periodically check for hidden alcohol a well as “fake id’s”, all of which can be found in bedrooms, cars and wallets. Fake Ids are easy to obtain online and usually come in pairs. If you find one and destroy it, chances are a second one is around.
“Teen Proof” Your Home. Reduce easy access to alcohol by locking up, otherwise securing or keeping track of any alcohol.
Be Mindful about Your Own Use. Model responsibility and moderation in your own behavior. Consider limiting your alcohol intake when around your teens and younger children. A glass or two with a meal isn’t a parenting crime. Yet, when hosting or attending a child-related event, keep it alcohol free. Never drive while under the influence. Remember that while your teens may pretend not to hear you – they are listening and are watching your actions!
It is no surprise that Marin’s high rates of teen drinking – including binge drinking - mirror high rates in our adult use. Almost one in four adults report binge drinking in the last 30 days. According to a statewide annual survey, for five years in a row, Marin County ranks as the number one healthiest county among 56 counties indicators – with the exception of “excessive drinking” and deaths from drug overdoses. In those two categories, Marin ranked below most California counties. As an opinion piece in the Marin IJ entitled “Dear Marin: You’re Drunk” stated, “Marin likes to drink. A lot”. See http://www.marinij.com/article/NO/20160919/FEATURES/160919782
BTI Website. Our new website at www.betheinfluencemarin.com has a blog which contains excerpts from prior BTI newsletters. It also hosts the Parent Lists for all eight BTI Marin schools.
BTI Facebook Page. “Like” our FB page and you will automatically receive notice of posts on various topics.
Recommended Reads. “Alcohol: What’s a Parent to Believe?” by Stephen Biddulph, “Where’s the Party?” by Jonathan Scott and Kelly Townsend, “How to Raise a Drug Free Kid – The Straight Dope for Parents” by Joseph Califano and “Clean” by David Sheff.
TAKE SURVEY! If you are a Tam District Parent to complete our short 5 question Survey on Prom Party Buses at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/9FMWTTM
PLEASE DONATE TO BTI! Lastly, please consider donating to Be the Influence to support our need to create a unified and secure database to accommodate our growth. Any amount is appreciated! Go to http://gofundme.com/fund-be-the-influence
Our next issue in February will focus on other commonly abused hard and prescription drugs such as Cocaine, Mollie, Xanax and Adderall.
We wish you a SAFE and Happy Holiday Season!
-The Be the Influence Marin Committee