Black Out Thursday. Maybe you had Black Out Friday. Or maybe your nickname was Black Out Bobby, or Black Out Bauer, or Black Out Bitch. Whatever the name or designation, blacking out after consuming alcohol is not only more common, it seems to be a whole lot less scary to adolescents today.
When I was in college, my roommate often blacked out. Those nights were miserable for us, her three other roommates. She would cry, scream about migraines, literally in agony, and we would take care of her and console her for hours. Finally she would pass out and sleep until lunch the next day only to remember absolutely nothing. I am not sure if we had a name for it, but we knew we were worried about her. We knew her behavior was not that of a typical drunk college girl.
I see a lot of college students in my practice, many I knew when they were in high school and many I met during their four (or five) year college career. Drinking is always a topic of conversation. To be honest, drinking is a topic beginning in 8th grade, sometimes 7th. From curiosity to habitual, these are ongoing discussions in my office.
When is a teen “old enough” to experiment? To get drunk? To be unsupervised at a party? Is he/she ever old enough to black out? Naperville North recently cracked down on 15 students who came to school intoxicated. Several schools have strict policies about drinking deterrents via the students’ sports agreements. Many others have breathalyzers at school functions. Are these policies working? Or is prevention where schools should be spending their resources?
I wrote about parents being tough about marijuana use earlier this year. The same should apply for alcohol. Parents should never give permission to their child to drink before they are 21, as that is the law. Just as driving waits until 16, voting until 18, drinking is allowed at 21. But… many students go off to college at 18 and are exposed to a whole lot of partying- sometimes on a bigger, scarier level then high school. Those students need to be prepared to handle these situations. And being prepared sometimes means personally understanding the effects of alcohol before leaving home. It is a tough call. I am not looking forward to those decisions as my own children reach that stage in their lives.
Is Safe Rides (a program where students can call for a confidential, no questions asked ride home) giving permission to drink? Are parents giving permission if they agree to be their child’s safe ride home? Or are these agreements saving lives? One can argue both sides of the coin. Just as condoms do not promote sex but instead protect against unwanted pregnancies and diseases, safety measures to prevent drinking and driving to do not promote alcohol use. The conversations need to begin early, not on that first unsupervised night, and the conversations need to continue.
Communicating with your pre-teen, teen and young adult is the safest measure any of us can take.