The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

Faith can address binge drinking

The Facts:

A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds 45 percent of teens report consumption of alcohol in the past month and 64 percent of those who imbibed said they were binge drinking (defined as having five or more alcoholic drinks in a row). The national study, published in the January 2007 issue of the prestigious journal Pediatrics, was based on a comprehensive survey of 15,240 students at public and private high schools. The study also found that binge drinking is strongly associated with sexual activity, violence and other high-risk behaviors.

When compared to nondrinkers, teen binge drinkers were:

•Four times more likely to be in a physical fight in the past year.

•Almost four times more likely to have ever been raped or subjected to dating violence in the past year.

•Four times more likely to have attempted suicide during the past 12 months.

•More than five times more likely to have been sexually active with one or more persons during the past three months.

•More likely to use marijuana, tobacco, cocaine or inhalants.

•More likely to have a poorer academic performance.

Binge drinking can also lead to alcohol poisoning, a serious and sometimes fatal reaction to heavy episodic alcohol consumption in which the brain is deprived of oxygen. As the body attempts to deal with the excess alcohol and the lack of oxygen to the brain, it can eventually shut down the respiratory and cardiac functions, resulting in death.

Underage alcohol use in general (not just binge drinking) is a significant public health issue. Alcohol is the drug of choice of young adults, used at a higher rate than tobacco or other illicit drugs. When the effect of underage consumption is combined with the high rates of binge drinking in the college environment, the problem is magnified. Forty percent of people who start drinking before age 15 develop alcohol dependency at some time in their lives. Each year, approximately 5,000 youths under the age of 21 die from alcohol-related car accidents, injuries, homicides and suicides. More than 8 in 10 administrators at four-year colleges say students’ alcohol use is a significant problem on campus. The American Medical Association reported that for college students ages 18 to 24, alcohol is a factor in an estimated 1,700 student deaths, 599,000 injuries and 97,000 cases of sexual abuse or date rape annually. The economic costs of alcohol abuse in the U.S. are estimated to have increased from $148 billion in 1992 to $184.6 billion in 1998.

How Faith Communities Can Help:

Research has found that stable families lower the risk of alcohol and drug abuse. It is likely that faith-based programs that focus on strengthening families can be a preventive strategy. Teen alcohol and drug abusers tend to have poor impulse control and assertiveness skills, high social anxiety and low self-worth. Well designed faith-based youth programs that provide social-skills training can help enhance coping, self-control, social problem solving and negotiation skills. Such programs can also generate increased self-esteem, a characteristic valuable in dealing with the effects of negative peer pressure.

Churches, synagogues and mosques are a powerful preventive and healing resource for many teens and their families. The effect can be magnified when youth leaders understand the pivotal role such peer-group settings play in encouraging youth to make healthy choices. Young people who practice their faith have more positive social values and caring behaviors, and their families are more stable than those who do not practice their religion. Recent research found that adolescents who regularly attend church or synagogue are half as likely to use alcohol as teens who do not attend worship regularly.

One study in the U.S. examined a sample of 13,250 students in grades 7 to 12. The researchers found that the greater the religious involvement, the less likely it is that a teen will use alcohol, marijuana, amphetamines or depressants. Adolescents who are involved in faith-based activities are also less likely to have friends who use alcohol or illicit drugs. These findings add to the extensive research supporting the social benefit of nurturing, non-punitive religious observance in limiting and preventing alcohol and drug use.

Faith communities can help persons in recovery from alcohol or other addictions by offering space and support for 12-step self-help groups which make available a spiritually-based supportive fellowship. About nine percent of the adult population reported attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in their lifetime and 13 percent had attended a 12-step program of some type. These groups can function as caring environments in which members feel safe and secure, offering a natural bridge in the process of reconnecting with the community when alcoholics are tempted to withdraw and isolate themselves.

Colleges and universities confront a daunting array of alcohol and chemical abuse issues. At SMU, after a series of student deaths related to alcohol and other drugs, the Office of the Chaplain began to require certification in alcohol and drug abuse training for all campus ministers using a nationally recognized training program. By focusing on the skills required to recognize, respond and intervene in substance abuse situations, these programs ensure that religious professionals possess at least a basic understanding of the issues.

Faith communities have a responsibility to support and provide resources for healthy lifestyles and decision making. These are arenas where the faith and academic communities can work together.

About the writers:

Rev. Andrew J. Weaver, Ph.D., is a United Methodist pastor and a research psychologist living in New York City. He is a graduate of Perkins School of Theology, SMU. He has co-authored 12 books including: “Counseling Survivors of Traumatic Events,” “Reflections on Grief and the Spiritual Journey,”

“Counseling Persons with Addictions and Compulsions” and “Connected Spirits: Friends and Spiritual Journeys.”

Rev. William M. Finnin, Jr., Th.D., is a United Methodist minister and the Senior Chaplain SMU. In 1999 he completed a Professional-In-Residence Internship at Hazelden Center for Alcohol and Chemical Addictions.

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