No Magic Goat: Youth and Binge Drinking

Binge Drinking 101:  A wee bit of what we know 

In Nova Scotia, as a province, we start drinking young, with age of first drink between 12-13 years of age, and we drink a lot.  We have binge-drinking rates that are much higher than the national average and our youth are very vulnerable to adopting this type of drinking behaviour, and as a demographic they have adopted this behaviour.  Our youth binge drinking rates are much higher than those in other provinces and there are some very good reasons why this is happening.  
In Nova Scotia we live in what is referred to as an alcogenic society, where alcohol has moved to the forefront in much of what we do.  It's consumption is normalized, and we seldom question it. Even when an incident of violence, sexual assault, alcohol poisoning, impaired driving, suicide, occurs in our communities, where alcohol is known to be involved, alcohol is often not part of the conversation.  

While some dismiss this by saying "it has always been this way", evidence as well as collective societal memory tells us of previous decades where this was not the case.  Does anyone remember "live music"?  "dancing"?  There used to be a lot more of it in many of our communities, as well as other social occasions where, if alcohol was present it was a minor player in the overall entertainment. 

Now, in many cases, alcohol IS the entertainment.  It is the focus of the event. That difference easily leads to increased harms from alcohol. We have a culture where alcohol advertising is commonplace, and where alcohol is glorified to being THE agent for a good time, for social acceptance, for success.  

Youth are very receptive to this kind of advertising, and can be lured to risky alcohol consumption as a way of "fitting in". The transition from youth to adult is a stressful one and if a product is believed to be the answer to anxiety and stress then it can easily be turned to, and turned to in excess. We have alcohol pricing that encourages youth (a very price-conscious consumer group) to drink the high-alcohol drinks that will get them drunk for the least amount of money. We have easy access to alcohol with a growing number of alcohol outlets, and with licensed establishments that stay open late, allowing for the serving of alcohol into the wee hours of the morning.    

Binge drinking, defined by the Low Risk Drinking Guidelines (see download area under Alcohol and
NS_LRDG) is 4 standard drinks at one sitting for a woman and 5 standard drinks at one sitting for a man.  But binge drinking is more than an amount of drinks consumed.  It is an approach to how they are consumed.  Binge drinking is not a social drinking pattern. The role of alcohol is not to provide a subtle background in which to socialize with friends. Binge drinking is a focused and calculated attempt to drink as much alcohol within a short period of time as possible, with the sole focus of getting "drunk/wasted/out of their mind".

Therein the danger lies.