The Truth About Teen Girls and Drinking

While "partying" can mean just hangin' with your crew, it often includes drinking. Here are some sobering stats—and stories—about teens and alcohol.

When Rochelle L. was 13, she'd never felt so much pressure on her—pressure to keep a straight-A average, pressure to look cool, pressure to fit in. So one afternoon, when Rochelle watched her older sister and a friend having a blast getting bombed on vodka, she joined in. From that day on, Rochelle drank every weekend—even by herself. After numerous visits to rehab and seven visits to the hospital for alcohol poisoning, she is now, at age 16, a recovering alcoholic.

Rochelle is far from alone. In fact, for the first time in history, teen girls drink more than boys. Almost 40 percent of ninth-grade girls have had a drink in the past month vs. only 34 percent of boys. And a whopping 45 percent of high-school girls drink alcohol. Even more frightening is the fact that girls are binge drinking (drinking till they drop) more than boys—21 percent of girls vs. 18.8 percent of boys.

And they're doing it without realizing the dangers. More than 40 percent of teens who drink before age 15 will become alcohol-dependent at some point in their lives. Add to that the super-high risk of unprotected sex, brain damage and drunk driving, and you wonder: Why are girls doing this?

There's no one reason teen girls drink, but the most common is to be accepted by peers. "Most girls feel they don't fit in—they're too tall, too small, too skinny, too fat. Their self-esteem plummets in junior high, more so than boys," says Janice Styer, therapist at the Caron Foundation, an alcohol treatment clinic in Wernersville, Pa.

Fitting in was the main reason Julie T., now 19, started drinking. "At 14, I was drinking with friends on the weekends. I found, with alcohol, I could communicate better and feel at ease with other kids. I made tons of friends since everyone thought I was this cool “party girl.'"

But Julie went from drinking every weekend until she passed out to ditching school every day so she could drink at home all afternoon. As a result, she went from being a gifted student to failing every class in 11th grade. Julie is currently in a halfway house after going through rehab three times.

So aside from wanting to fit in, what are the main reasons girls are choosing to drink like there's no tomorrow?

* They want equality. "Girls have always felt like the weaker sex so now they want to show guys that they aren't—even if it's by drinking them under the table!" Explains Styer.

* They're stressed out. When the going gets rough, some people run away instead of facing up. Teen girls have a ton of pressure on them, so they often turn to alcohol to "feel good."

* They want to be accepted. If other kids are drinking, they'll do it just to be part of the group.

* They're bored. "Their parents are working harder and are often divorced, so kids have a lot of time alone at home. But since they're used to constant stimulation, alcohol is another way to fill up that time," says Styer.

* Their parents do it. Teens think, 'It couldn't be that bad if they're doing it.’ But kids from families with addictive behavior have a genetic predisposition to very quickly become alcoholics.

* They're rebelling. The teen years are usually the time when kids really want to break loose from their parents and make it known that they can be independent.

Believe it or not, teen girls are far more likely to drink than to smoke cigarettes or marijuana (only 11 percent of teens have smoked pot by ninth grade)—and not just because it's easier to get.
Dr. Elaine Leader, executive director of Teen Line (a 24/7 help hotline for teens) says kids seem to think alcohol is no biggie compared to other drugs. "It's legal—although, not to them. And, to make matters worse, they see rock stars and actors who come through their drinking problems and remain big stars."

But it is. Just how dangerous? Here are the main reasons, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, drinking is a major risk—especially to teens:

* It's more likely to kill than all illegal drugs combined.

* The likelihood off unprotected sex is extremely high. That increases the chances of getting pregnant or getting a sexually transmitted disease, including AIDS.

* Alcohol greatly increases the chance of suicide when it is used by an already stressed-out or depressed teen.

* Drinking kills brain cells permanently, so it can lead to memory loss or even severe brain damage.

Statistics are one thing, but real experience can be a wakeup call.

Rochelle has her own horror stories about binge drinking. "When I was 15, I ditched school with my friend, and we went to this rock star's house in a nearby beach town. I ended up blacking out—for six days. I barely remember anything I did, except that my friend and I almost got killed while she was driving drunk! When my parents finally found me, they immediately sent me to a treatment center for 47 days. Now, I go to Visions Adolescent Treatment Center in Malibu, Calif., for weekly meetings, and they totally saved my life. I've been sober for 120 days now."

But the consequences of drinking can be even worse—if that's possible—as they were for Julie when she hit bottom at 16. "I blacked out at a stranger's house and, two days later, I woke up to my mom's voice. She took me home, where I tore apart the house looking for alcohol. When I couldn't find anything to drink, I totally freaked out and slit my wrists. While the blood was pouring out of me, I cried out for my mom because I really didn't want to die. My mom immediately took me to the emergency room for stitches and gave me two choices: I had to go to rehab or to a mental institution. I chose rehab."

To Rochelle and Julie, kicking the habit seemed a near impossibility. But they did it. And the best start, explains Dr. Leader, is to "talk to anyone you trust—a parent, a sibling, a minister, a coach. Or call Teen Line. If the situation is serious, you may have to go to a rehab for chemical dependency. But there are also free and totally anonymous programs, like Alcoholics Anonymous, and you can attend their meetings anytime without having to tell anyone."

Sure, your teen years are for having fun and partying with friends—once you've finished the homework and chores, of course. But who says "partying" is drinking? It's really about spending time with friends, laughing, swapping stories and being your totally crazy, beautiful self. Alcohol not included.

The surest way to avoid drinking is to stay away from situations where you know people will be partying. But, sometimes, despite your best intentions, alcohol shows up where you least expect it. Here's how to deal....

If someone pressures you to drink, keep repeating, "No, thanks" over and over. Usually, they'll get so bored, they'll stop asking.

If they do keep pounding away, cut off the conversation by saying something like, "Hey, look who's here!" while pointing across the room, and then just walk away.

Often, people will put on the heat by trying to get you to answer questions just to get you to cave in, like, "What are you afraid of?" or "What's the matter—Mommy won't let you drink?" Just laugh and ignore them. If you defend yourself—which you don't need to do when you believe what you're doing is right—you'll get nowhere.
By: Sandy Fertman Ryan


1/24/2010 8:00:00 AM
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