The recent death of Penn State student, Timothy Piazza, and the alleged hazing behavior of the fraternity members who may have been involved in the tragedy, illustrates that alcohol abuse is prevalent and it can kill your child.
Hazing is tortuous and, as stated by Penn State President Eric Barron, “heart-wrenching and incomprehensible.” At a time when a student should have been celebrating the start of his educational journey, he allegedly died during a horrible binge-drinking ritual.
One of the risks of these hazing incidents is that a young person may drink far more than they can manage. Alcohol is not absorbed by the stomach, but rather from the intestines. This causes a delay of about 30 to 60 minutes for the full absorption to occur.
When drinking over several hours there is a point when the person begins to slow down, because they are very intoxicated, and even sometimes pass out altogether. In some ways, the body self-regulates, after a blood alcohol of 0.2 or 0.3 g%. In hazing incidents pledges are often forced to drink very large amounts of alcohol in a rapid, single sitting – which is sometimes far more than they can manage. When drinking the large amount they do not “feel” the alcohol, and have not absorbed it yet. In these cases, blood alcohol can climb to levels of 0.5 g% or higher, with some people becoming unresponsiveness and, in rare cases, suffering death.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), and their 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 26.9% of people ages 18 or older had participated in binge drinking in the past month. The NIAAA defines binge drinking when the blood alcohol concentration reaches 0.08g/dL. A patient is diagnosed with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) when his or her drinking causes distress or harm.
The survey also reported that 15.1 million adults and 623,000 adolescents (ages 12-17) had AUD.
How does alcohol abuse impact the body? According to the NIAAA, 45.9% of liver disease related deaths of people ages 12 and older were alcohol related. Beyond liver disease and cirrhosis, alcohol also increases the risk for cancers of the breast, larynx, pharynx, esophagus and mouth.
During teenage years, alcohol can interfere with brain development and contribute to injuries, assaults (including sexual assaults), and death. Most teenagers drink to get drunk when they use alcohol putting them at a significant risk for accidents, injury and overdose death. Alcohol is the fourth leading preventable cause of death. In the United States, 88,000 people die annually due to alcohol-related causes.
How do you know if your child is struggling with AUD? Watch for signs like having trouble with school and relationships, changes in behavior, a change in how they dress, or a sudden change in friends. Listen to teachers and the teenager’s friends.
If you’re convinced your child has a problem, talk to your child’s healthcare provider about an evaluation. And keep an open dialogue with your child showing them that together you will find the answers and help them to get on the road to remission. For more information, click here.
Steven C. Matson, MD, is interim chief of the Section of Adolescent Health at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and an Associate Professor of Clinical Pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.
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