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Binge drinking the new norm?

Rider University freshman and fraternity pledge Gary DeVercelly died in March 2007, after drinking most of a bottle of vodka at a frat party.

Last October, Minnesota State University pre-nursing student Amanda Jax, celebrating her 21st birthday at a bar with friends, downed a potent mix of cocktails and shots before being helped to a friend’s apartment, where she, too, died.

Officials say that both DeVercelly, 18, and Jax had blood alcohol levels well over 0.4 – much higher than the .08 driving limit – and that both died of alcohol poisoning.

It’s not known whether Jax was a victim of the 21 shots for your 21st birthday “tradition,” or simply of friends who allegedly kept buying drinks for her, wanting to show her a good time. Her family has sued both the friends and the bar.

But more kids than you would think do the “21 shots on their 21st birthday,” or try to, says Mylene Krzanowski, executive director of the student assistance program at Comprehensive Addiction Treatment for Life, formerly the Caron Foundation, a non-profit addiction-treatment program in Wernersville, Berks County.

“Kids sort of think that’s a rite of passage,” Krzanowski said.

“The prevalence of how many kids are actually doing that is much higher than what the experts thought,” Krzanowski said.

The results of trying to down 21 drinks on your 21st birthday can lead if not to death then to brain damage.

To the friends of the intoxicated person, “it looks like they might be sleeping, but they’re unconscious because of alcohol poisoning, ” Krzanowski said. “The friends think, ‘We’ll just let them sleep it off.’

“Even some parents have done that,” she said.

Krzanowski said that, according to national health statistics, binge drinking today seems to be “pretty much holding steady” as compared with recent years.

“I think what we’re seeing is that that type of drinking has become more of the normal type of drinking for young people,” Krzanowski said. “The kids go out with every intention to drink as much as they can. Girls are doing it, too.

“Younger teens also are doing a lot more high-risk drinking than previously,” Krzanowski said.

“We’re seeing kids coming into treatment at 14, 15 or 16 who say they first used alcohol as young as 9.”

Although there has been a significant decline in tobacco and illicit drug use among teens, underage drinking has remained at consistently high levels, the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office said last year.

Research shows that young people who start drinking before the age of 15 are five times more likely to have alcohol-related problems later in life, according to the Surgeon General’s office.

The 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates that there are 11 million underage drinkers in the U.S., according to the surgeon general’s office.

Nearly 7.2 million are considered binge drinkers, typically meaning they drink more than five drinks on occasion, it said.

source: Philadelphia Daily News

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