Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Drunkenness at Music Fest puts teens at major risk
July 18, 2008

As always, I had a wonderful time at Courtenay’s Island Music Fest this past weekend, and I don’t want what I’m about to say to be taken as criticism of what is truly a summer highlight for my family.
But holy moly, there was some out-of-control drinking going on up there.
There were kids drinking so hard that I suspect some of them were putting their lives at risk. They were falling-down, glassy-eyed, fumble-footed drunks. I can’t imagine the drunken coupling that went on in the teens’ sprawling, bottle-strewn campsites that wouldn’t have met the legal test of consent.
I like young people, and saw a whole lot of them at Music Fest who were there for all the right reasons and not just to drink themselves blotto in the campground. So I definitely wouldn’t want anyone thinking that I’m pointing the finger at young people in general - or even underage drinking. What actually disturbed me was not that some teens were drinking, but that they were drinking so heavily.
I saw one girl, maybe 15 or 16 years old, staggering around between the tents absolutely blasted, wearing an itsy, bitsy bikini and carrying a beer. It was 10 a.m. I couldn’t help but wonder at all the bad things that might have happened to her already.
One worried camper started bringing water to the drunken teens camped near his site, trying to help them stay hydrated as they sat drinking fearlessly for hour after hour in the hot sun.
The studies call it “binge drinking.” It’s defined as any single drinking session where you consume four or more alcoholic drinks (four for females, six for males). Not surprisingly, it’s the riskiest way to drink, and the most likely to lead to something bad happening.
Binge drinkers are five times more likely to have unprotected sex. They’re more likely to drive drunk - and cause accidents that kill people. They’re at significantly more risk of getting in trouble with police, and much more likely to get in fights. Gender matters: men are three to six times more likely than women to binge-drink.
Should a binge drinker develop hard-drinking habits that last - another known risk - he or she is looking at higher risk of more than 60 health conditions down the line: heart disease, brain damage, liver failure, cancer. Hard drinkers also risk chronic problems with sexual performance and fertility.
In other words, nothing good comes from binge-drinking. But the health stats still don’t really get at the issue that scares me most when I see kids drinking hard, which is how completely vulnerable they are at that moment to unforeseen events that could change the course of their life forever.
I drank to get drunk myself as a young teen, although I can’t recall ever being quite as blasted as some of the girls I saw last weekend. I’d put the age range of those drinking hardest at 14 to early 20s, but that’s not to say there weren’t a number of older festival-goers hammering it back as well.
Drinking is more or less sanctioned at the festival, what with a beer garden on site and a liberal alcohol policy in the campsite. Perhaps that’s something organizers will want to reflect on.
But just because you can doesn’t mean you have to, and it’s that point that requires the most thought going forward.
More than a fifth of British Columbians are occasional binge-drinkers. In terms of consumption - which is rising - Vancouver Island is second only to the Interior as the B.C. region that drinks the most. In Europe, where binge-drinking is a growing concern, a 2006 study found that 80 million Europeans were drinking at harmful levels once a week or more.
Hopefully we all know the drill on alcohol: That it slows the functions of the central nervous system; affects parts of the brain that control emotion, movement, balance, judgment and impulse; lowers people’s pain thresholds; fogs all five senses. If you’re pregnant, it wreaks havoc on the developing fetus. Too much of it and you’re dead, as a group of California teens were reminded in March when a 16-year-old pal drank herself to death at their party.
The message: Don’t binge-drink, both for your sake and for that of whatever young kid is noticing how you knock them back and concluding that’s the way it’s done.
And one for the parents: What the heck are you doing blithely dropping off young teens at the festival campground for three days as if somebody’s looking out for them? Teens need their parents to help them learn when to draw the line.

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