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Binge-drinking and the Danger to Adolescents -by Edward L. Oriole, LCPC N.C.C.

Due to the long ­term effects of alcohol abuse, binge ­drinking has become a major public

health issue.

What is binge ­drinking? Social, medical and emotional health media categorize “binge-
drinking” as a pejorative term. It includes individuals who engage in heavy, episodic

consumption of alcohol. This is largely intended to become intoxicated in a short period

of time. I agree with that definition and add that the binge ­drinking can last up to several

days and occasionally even weeks. My colleagues and myself, here at The Lighthouse

Emotional Wellness Center, view binge ­drinking as a dangerous behavior. The outcomes

are often felt by the individual who commits binge­ drinking and also the families that have

to endure the dangerous behavior. It is not normal adolescent behavior. Instead it can

cause emotional wreckage within families and cause significant impediments to career

and academic success.

What is the danger of binge ­drinking? Brain damage occurs faster and more severely

with binge ­drinking than it does with chronic alcohol abuse (i.e. alcoholism). The neurotoxic damage is more acute with the practice of binge ­drinking. The sheer volume of

alcohol ingested in a short period of time damages or destroys neurons in the brain.

When I see an adolescent, in my practice, that indulges in binge ­drinking, I visualize the

behavior as a self-­inflicted hammer blows to their young, developing brain. Medical

doctors assure me that repeated episodes of binge ­drinking, results in accumulated and

sustained neural brain damage. The developing brain of an adolescent is particularly

susceptible to the neuro­toxic effects of binge ­drinking. Sadly the damage does not end

with the brain. Binge ­drinking is associated with profound social harm, economic costs

and a host of organ system damage. Once the euphoric effects of binge ­drinking wears

off and the hangover is concluded, the adverse effects upon neurological, cardiac,

hematologic and gastrointestinal systems within the human body continue and multiply.

There is another danger that we address here at the Lighthouse Emotional Wellness

Center. That danger is the emotional wreckage that is inflicted upon families that include

binge ­drinker(s). Forty percent of adult alcoholics report heavy drinking during

adolescence. Repeated episodes of binge ­drinking, especially at an early age, are

thought to cause a profound risk in the development alcohol and substance related

disorders. Even if all of the above were untrue, study after study associates binge-
drinking in adolescence, having ill effects on the developing adolescent brain. The main

lobes that are involved in decision making and complex thought processes are

undergoing their final development phase during adolescence. Binge ­drinking can

negatively stunt the growth of the frontal lobes. Long after the behavior is concluded the

medical effects linger on.

How to treat binge ­drinking? Alcohol problems vary in terms of severity from mild to life

threatening. Its presence affects the individual and the individual’s family. Our focus at

The Lighthouse is to detect if binge ­drinking is present. Is binge ­drinking the origin of

family or individual emotional dysfunction? There is a sense of urgency if this is the

case. Our staff seeks to identify and extinguish the binge ­drinking before it becomes

chronic alcoholism. Our agency seeks to develop emotional wellness and build better

relationships. The presence of binge ­drinking within a family system is an impediment to

that goal. The purpose of therapy requires building strong therapeutic alliances between

the family, the individual and the therapist. The presence of anxiety, depression, fears

and anger, often mask the real cause. If that cause is binge ­drinking, by a member of the

family system, it is swiftly identified.

The clinical model that I often employ is: Client Centered Therapy. In short I create an

atmosphere in which the binge­ drinker or the families member(s) can express their inner

feelings with a certainty that they are being understood and not judged. This model

makes it more likely that the origin or the need for binge­ drinking will be discovered.

The next step begins when the client commits to the pursuit of healing and growth. This

demands a great deal of courage because the answers and solutions reside within the

individual and not the therapist.

Three elements are demanded from the therapist:

The first is that I must foster a sense of empathy for the clients experience.

The second is that I must demonstrate unconditional positive regard. This eliminates

“finger wagging, judgment and shaming.” I express the unconditional positive regard

literally.

The final element is congruence or a sense of genuineness by myself for the well­being of

the client. I never hide behind the use of jargon, platitudes and a professional facade.

Client-­Centered therapy demands an active role from the binge ­drinker and/or their family

member. The responsibility to change is firmly within the client. My responsibility is to

create a forum for the change to occur through empathy, unconditional positive regards

and genuineness. The danger of binge ­drinking becoming chronic alcohol abuse is

lessened when therapy is entered early and as part of a comprehensible treatment plan.

Edward L. Oriole, LCPC, NCC

Staff at The Lighthouse Emotional Wellness Center

1930 Thoreau Drive, Suite 170

Schaumburg, IL. 60173

tel. 847 253 9769