One in four Colorado high school students reported binge drinking, equating to five or more drinks at a time, according to the most recent data available from the 2011 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey. Officials at the Colorado Department of Human Services are worried about what all that alcohol can do to growing teens, which is the focus of their “Speak Now” campaign.
According to Stan Paprocki, Director of Community Prevention and Early Intervention Programs, the four-year campaign gets an extra push during certain times of the year, such as back-to-school, holidays and prom season, when teenagers are more likely to engage in activities that may lead them to consume alcohol.
“Certain times of the year are significant, especially now because parents are spending a little more time with their kids, and that makes them more receptive,” Paprocki said.
Underage alcohol use is illegal and as the latest research with Colo. high school students shows, it creates both immediate and lasting impacts on the teen brain. The study released from the 2011 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey said students who reported binge drinking were five times more likely to use other illegal substances and twice as likely to seriously consider suicide.
“This school year, it’s important both parents and teens understand the variety of risks associated with underage drinking,” said Paprocki. “Teen brains are hard at work preparing for adulthood. Frequent, heavy alcohol use during this time can greatly influence decision-making, mental health, and even impact memory, making it difficult to learn.”
Findings published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), available at http://speaknowcolorado.org, show heavy alcohol use during teenage years can actually shrink the area of the brain controlling memory and damage the area of the brain controlling emotions and urges.
As serious as binge drinking is, talking to teens about responsible behavior and making smart decisions doesn’t have to be an all-out production that makes both parents and children uncomfortable.
“The campaign promoted that this doesn’t have to be a major sit-down issue, but part of the normal parent-child interaction,” Paprocki said. “The conversation can happen any time, driving them to school, going shopping together, hanging out over ice cream.”
“Speak Now” is a statewide effort funded by SAMHSA and created in response to alarming statistics showing Colorado ranked 9th in the country for teen binge drinking. The campaign focuses on providing parents and guardians with facts and information to help them discuss the dangers of teen drinking with their kids.
“In four years, we’ve seen a decrease in underage drinking from 44 percent to 33 percent, so we’re going to keep hitting as hard as we can with the campaign,” Paprocki said. “Parents remain one of the most effective deterrents to teen alcohol use.”