Binge drinking is a risky trend being tracked now among the very people who aren't legally allowed to do it.
College campuses are a popular place for drinking to happen, but teens are developing this party practice well before they get to university.
Binge drinking - It's defined as spending at least two occasions, having five or more drinks in a row within a two week period. It's a practice common among pre-teens and the ones downing the drinks are growing younger and younger.
Teens and drinking - Nowadays it's a perceived rite of passage. If you don't drink you're not cool. If you do, you fit in.
It used to be - you had to ask an older buddy to grab a 6-pack at the store to get alcohol if you were underage, but those days are quickly diminishing.
Renee Helfrich, a Bradley University student says there are so many other ways to get your hands on alcohol if you're underage, "...sneaking around your parent's house and taking their alcohol, their liquor cabinet... A lot of people have the fake IDs."
In a 2016 Illinois Youth study, Tazewell County found that 12th graders had all sorts of ways to get booze.
36% got it from a friend
31% at a party
19% other adults
14% took it from a parent without their knowledge.
Brittany Ott, a Corporate Services Clinician for the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery, revealed alarming facts about the teens who come through her doors. "The average age of first use is cited to be about 14 years of age. We have certainly seen adolescents who have started experimenting at a younger age and a lot of that is reflective of accessibility within the home environment."
Ott assists with education and outreach, she says part of the reason those teens are drinking is due in part by quick, easy access to alcohol and lack of communication from parents regarding alcohol education. "It's important to have not only to have the communication and open dialogue but to pair it with structure and supervision within the home. so not only discussing but then acting upon that discussion." Ott offered.
She lists some starting points to address the problem, like having curfews within the home, supervision of adolescent get-togethers. and following through on rules set in place, to offer structure and consistency.
The same 2016 Tazewell County report highlighted high-schoolers who said it was easy to get alcohol if they wanted to.
27% of 8th graders reported easy access and the numbers only grew. 58% of 10th graders agreed and 72% of seniors in high school said the same thing.
Helfrich wasn't shy about sharing that she's seen students at parties putting down the beers and opting for hard liquor.
"It's definitely the back to back shots. It's people just putting a fifth or a handle on a table and everyone going for it."
Turns out, hard liquor is the drink of choice for pre teens also.
Half of the 8th graders surveyed - we're talking about 13 or 14 year olds - said they preferred vodka or whiskey. A staggering 71% of 10th graders liked hard liquor along with 12th graders who ranked at 78%.
It's a dangerous pattern Ott says, that's only amplified on college campuses. "That especially transfers into the college environment. when we talk about a college population, if those patterns have started as a younger adult, when they transition into a college environment, where it's very unstructured and there is more accessibility, and there's limited parent interactions, we see an amplified effect in terms of binge drinking and the dangers that can be present in that college lifestyle."
Social events, specifically parties, are a breeding ground for underage alcohol consumption.
Meeko Reddick, a grad student recalls his experience as an undergrad in Central Illinois, candidly explaining how easy it is for minors to drink in college. "Nobody is gonna be like 'show me your ID' before you get into this party or anything like that. so it's kinda hard to depict when an individual is of age...you just offer it because you think socially, everybody here goes to this college."
And after being handed beverage after beverage, one drink too many could have a drastic affects on these students' future.
Aleece Dugan, a Resident Assistant for one of the Bradley University dorms says she's seen her share of wild nights as a result of over intoxication. "Some of the negative things are definitely alcohol poisoning because they end up becoming unconscious and we can't really take care of them at that point."
Ott, shared that at the IIAR, the healthcare professionals are no stranger to witnessing some of the more negative results of under age binge drinking, quickly rattling off a list of the ones she says are common. "Accident and injury...We see high volumes of teenangers being put into the emergency room for alcohol related concerns. It can lead to sexual assault, physical assault and it can have an impact on their academic and sports performances as well."
Another challenge for experts and parents alike - finding the difference between a casual good time and a developing addiction.
According to Ott, a majority of early onset drinking for teenagers is guided by peer influence and occurs during a party or social setting. She points out that the behavior might be the initial stage of experimentation, but said behavior could ripple into choosing to drink to cope with stress, anxiety or home complications.
The IIAR employs a number of methods to determine how serious an adolescent's drinking problem may be, or what level of intervention, if any, is required.
"We start with an assessment and the assessment gives us a comprehensive picture of the adolescent's medical history as well as their current pattern of use. During that assessment we help determine if that individual has an alcohol use disorder, whether they would benefit from education or benefit from treatment, which involves a combination of education as well as psychotherapy classes." Ott explained
Ott went on to say the good news in all of this is that most of the early drinking patterns and problems can be prevented, "Having that consistent presence from a parent or someone within the family who can help present a contrast side to that information and say here are the concerns with drug and alcohol use. we disapprove of that use. It does make a difference."
Although drinking under the age of 21 is illegal, the Centers for Disease Control reported last year, people ages 12 to 20 drank 11% of the alcohol consumed in the U.S.
More than 90% of that alcohol was consumed in the form of binge drinking and on average, underage drinkers consume more alcohol per drinking occasion than adults.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with underage drinking, the IIAR offers free assessments and accepts informal referrals. For more information, please visit their website or contact (309) 888-0993.