Robert remembers little of his blackout—a lack of memory for events that occur during a night of heavy drinking—except that he attended a party along with some of his friends in Sasa, Davao City.
“I must have drunk at least 10 bottles of beer,” recalled the 20-year-old salesman who, at the time the event happened, was graduating from college. At around 1 a.m., they decided to go home.
His friends thought he was alright and so they left him alone at the bar. “I really didn’t know how I got home,” he said. “I also didn’t know how I lost my mobile phone and my wallet.”
Seventeen-year-old Marc remembers gulping “way too many” alcoholic drinks after a Friday afternoon class with two of his friends in a nearby bar in Digos City. First, they ordered whiskeys, then more whiskeys.
“It’s as if we were drinking only fruit juices,” Marc said. At 10 p.m., they decided to drink some beers. Marc was halfway through the bottle when he suddenly had the urge to vomit. He stood up and before he could run to the comfort room, he was already vomiting. He didn’t know what happened next, but he found himself outside the bar.
Stories like these are common not only in Davao region but also in other parts of the country. Ben, who celebrated his 19th birthday three years ago, was drinking with his buddies in a friend’s house in Manila. After drinking several rounds of beer, they went out and sprayed a neighbor’s front wall.
The nearby security guard saw what they were doing, so he alerted the owner who called the police. “Several patrol cars came and we were brought to a police precinct,” Ben said. A friend’s father had to help them out from the prison.
“The cases of alcoholic drinking among the youngsters [between the age of 13 to 21 years old] have reached an alarming level compared to the recent past,” observed Ray Ryan Rigor, a nurse from the emergency room in a Davao hospital. “I can personally attest to this, as I have witnessed college students engaged in heavy drinking till the wee hours.”
This is indeed very alarming. “Philippine law sets the minimum legal drinking age at 18 but underage drinking is widespread,” wrote Joyce P. Valbuena in a report for Health Action Information Network (HAIN). “Most young people get alcohol from home with or without their parents’ permission. They know how to obtain alcohol—they are able to get it from friends or they can discreetly buy for themselves.”
What is even more alarming is the fact that more and more youngsters are now drinking than in the recent past. In a survey conducted by the University of the Philippines, 60 percent of Filipino youths today are drinking alcoholic beverages.
Even at a young age, Filipino teenagers are already drinking. A study conducted by the East-West Center (EWC) in Hawaii showed 11 percent of boys began to drink by age 15. Only 4 percentof the girls commenced to drink at that age.
“More than half of all the boys who drink also smoke or use drugs,” disclosed the findings of the study which focused on adolescent drinking, smoking and drug use. “By contrast, most girls who drink only drink.” Most of these teenagers are not aware of the repercussions they are courting. “When it comes to drinking, most teenagers are impulsive,” explains Francis T. Lagudas, a soon-to-be doctor who started drinking at the age of 17 when he was already in college. “Their sense of responsibility is not yet well-developed.”
Many of these youngsters—some of them good kids—are even involved in binge drinking. If you don’t know what it means, it is “drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration to 0.08 percent”—that’s 80 milligrams of alcohol for every 100 milliliters of blood.
New Scientist, a British magazine, explains the medical definition this way: On average, males taking in five or more “standard drinks” or females taking in four or more “standard drinks” in two hours send blood alcohol soaring to that 80 milligram level.
But what is a “standard drink”? A Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist gives this idea: “(A standard drink) can be a small glass of wine, one bottle of beer or a splash of Russian vodka. For Filipinos then, the index would be beer bottles: taking in five or more in two hours could be binge drinking.”
In simpler terms, binge drinking is drinking to get drunk. “Drinking alcoholic beverages beyond one’s capacity to the point of intoxication is a risky behavior in which most young people get involved at some time,” Valbuena wrote.
Whether in industrialized or developing countries, binge drinking among teenagers show the same pattern. “Young people in developing countries are increasingly drinking in the same harmful patterns as young people in developed countries,” reports the Geneva-based World Health Organization.
This is truer in the Philippines. “In campuses and colleges, binge drinking occurs during acquaintance night, promenades, victory balls and pre-graduation parties. So, there’s always something for these students to do and get drunk,” said Dr. Kenneth Hartigan-Go, a medical toxicologist.
Outside schools, binge drinking happens after final examinations or during special occasions like Christmas celebrations, New Year’s Eve, birthday and wedding parties and even during wakes. It is most common during a rite of passage among college students.
The worst thing that some young people can expect from a night of binge drinking is a blackout or bad hangover.
Twenty-one-year old Marianne was having a grand time drinking together with her friends on the sixth floor of a building in Davao City. She didn’t remember how many glasses of wine she had drunk but the following day she found herself at the hospital and was told she could not walk or talk again.
“Because she was drunk, some people thought she fell or got thrown from the building. Or she may have walked out of the building completely drunk and some bad guys kicked her out on the back and left her that way,” a friend surmised.
Fortunately, Marianne was able to talk again but still in a wheelchair.
Not too many know that it can lead to alcohol poisoning that kills. Among the symptoms and signs of alcohol poisoning, according to medical experts, include the following: confusion, vomiting, seizures, slow or irregular breathing, blue-tinged skin or pale skin and unconsciousness (“passing out”).
“It is peak blood alcohol concentration which leads to respiratory arrest or aspiration of vomit and death,” explained Alex Wagenaar, director of the Alcohol Epidemiology Program at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health in Minneapolis. Many factors affect peak blood alcohol concentration; examples include gender, weight, percentage of body fat and pace of drinking.
In some instances, alcohol’s influence on a person can lead to date rape, sexually transmitted infection and unwanted pregnancies. Studies conducted by the World Bank from 2000 to 2003 ranked the Philippines as one of the top 10 countries with an increasing number of teenage mothers. Seven out of 10 Filipina mothers are adolescents; most of them are below 19 years old.
Alcohol also affects a person’s central nervous system and the teen years are a time of brain development. Recent medical studies also shows that young people, whose brains are still developing, may be at greater risk than mature adults of lasting brain damage from heavy alcohol consumption.
“In general, when the level of alcohol exceeds the limit of liver metabolism threshold, the ethanol goes straight to other organ systems and starts destroying the cells,” Hartigan-Go explains. “Often, we see nerve damage centrally and peripherally. Alcohol abuse leads to vitamin B1 deficiency, causing malnutrition, psychosis, memory loss and inability to control neuro muscular movements.”
In the UP study cited earlier, it was found that Filipino youths, on the average, start drinking at the age of 16 or 17. “There are also many cases when children as young as 12 years old are already drinking alcoholic beverages,” Valbuena noted. “About 37 percent of the respondents in the survey have continued the habit of drinking alcohol, while 33 percent said they only drink alcoholic beverages on special occasions.”
Some studies have also shown that teenagers who drink heavily “are more than 12 times likelier to use illegal drugs than those who do not drink.” As one doctor puts it: “These kids don’t necessarily know what they feel, or even like what they feel. So they want to change how they feel. Alcohol is the answer for them.”
Which brings us to the question: Why do these young people start drinking too early in life? “Family, friends and the mass media have influenced them to experiment with drinking alcohol,” Valbuena wrote. “Underscoring the critical role that the family plays in youth behaviors, young people seem to take their cue from their own parents’ attitudes and behavior. Thus, a boy who grows up with an alcoholic father is more likely to become one himself.”
On media and advertisements, a parent explains: “I think our children are swayed by media, television and video games. Kids tend to emulate not necessarily heroes or role models, but someone whom they idolize.”
Who are most likely to drink and who are not? According to the HAIN report, teenagers who are likely to drink are those who are not living with their parents (for instance, college students living in dormitories); whose parents approve drinking, who frequently attending social gatherings; who enjoy going out to parties, bars and discos; and who do not take part in sports activities.
As young people and teenagers are still unaware of what they are actually doing, it is the responsibility of the parents and guardians to do something about them drinking alcoholic beverages. Parents particularly have a key role in reducing drinking among their children.
“The importance of teenagers’ closeness to their parents and to their parental attitudes suggest that efforts to prevent teen drinking, smoking and drug use should enlist the participation of parents,” the EWC study recommended.
“Keep off their children from so many temptations,” suggests Rigor, also a father. “What do I mean about this? Parents should always check on their children, their activities and the friends they keep.”
Parents should also be responsible enough not to serve alcohol to their teenage children. “If you care for your children, you need to show your love and concerns,” says Jims Vincent Capuno, a father who, as much as possible, doesn’t drink in front of his children.
That’s one. Another is talking with teens openly about the risks of binge drinking. “Show them the cause and effects of drinking too much,” suggests Tony Peralta, also a father. “I brought my son to the morgue to show what happens when a drinking spree can result into a car accident. I also showed him what happens to out intestines when we drink too much.”
More important, parents should serve as role models for their children. “Children learn from their parents,” says Patrick Durst, a father and a retired United Nations official. “If your kids see you get in a car and drive while drunk, then it’s pretty hard to tell them not to do the same. Instead, show your kids how to drink responsibly—by drinking responsibly yourself.”
Now a word about binge drinking and the media. “The earlier one starts to drink, the bigger the chance of becoming a binge drinker later,” the Inquirer columnist pointed out. “We need to rethink all those advertisements glorifying alcohol, especially when it’s associated with a night out with the barkada.”