New report warns against binge drinking

While Portland State students are probably aware of the risks involved in consuming alcohol, several say they are not concerned because they drink infrequently, though in large quantities.

“Because I’m a sporadic drinker, I don’t think the health risks apply to me,” said Joseph Reynolds, a PSU student.

The risks involved in drinking large quantities of alcohol, or “binge drinking,” have sizeable effects according to health officials. Many adolescents begin binge drinking around age 13, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), and a recently published article reported that drinking at such a young age causes substantially more brain damage than drinking as adults and may also greatly increase the chances of developing dependency on alcohol later in life.

A PSU student, who asked to remain anonymous, began drinking at the age of nine and continued to drink heavily through his teenage years. Although he has since dropped his dependency, he used to drink every day, consuming as much as a pint of 151-proof Everclear liquor daily.

“My skin was light green and my body always ached,” he said. “I would wake up every morning with horrible hangovers.”

A second PSU student, who also asked to remain anonymous, said that she had consumed alcohol for up to 10 days in a row and also admitted to having blacked out.

“Blacking out causes severe damage to the brain,” said Dr. Miles Hassell, director of the Integrative Medical Clinic at Providence St. Vincent in Portland. “The more plastic the brain, the more harm alcohol does.”

Hassell said this means that the younger the drinker is, the more damage is done. He said blacking out from drinking is comparable to a boxer blacking out from a brutal punch: the brain is almost certainly harmed.

SAMHSA defines binge drinking as five or more drinks at a time for a male and four or more drinks for a female. Of the frequent binge drinkers surveyed by SAMHSA, 78 percent of males and 91 percent of females considered themselves “moderate or light drinkers.”

According to the federal National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, 10.4 million young people (between 12 and 20) admitted to drinking; 5.1 million of these adolescents were binge drinkers and 2.3 million binge drink more than four times a month.

All but one of the PSU students surveyed attested to blacking out at least once in their lives. Augustina Mourelatos said, “Actually, I don’t think that there are many people in our age group who haven’t.”

Recent studies presented by The New York Times showed that damage done to a young brain by alcohol can injure the brain’s capacity to resist alcoholism later in life. The study suggested that even without a genetic predisposition to alcohol, young drinkers were prone to alcoholism.

Reynolds said his friend’s first drinking experience included hazing, pressure not to throw up, a hospital and the charcoal to help him recover. Reynolds said he is disgusted at those who encouraged his friend to drink himself to the emergency room.