Text by Henrylito D. Tacio
Having a beer at the end of the workday or a glass of wine during dinner might be described as a North American and European tradition. Having a drink is also regarded by many as essential to a successful social life. A swimming party or the local bars are often the setting advertisers use to capture younger consumers, particularly the so-called millennials, by portraying drinking as cool.
Beer drinking has been portrayed as a national pastime, with some advertising campaigns linking it to Filipino pride. “My father and older brothers drink,” admits 22-year-old Norman, who works as a call center agent. “Our party is not a party without beer.”
Studies have shown that an average Filipino family spends one percent of its income on alcoholic beverages. In recent years, wine consumption among Filipinos increases by 10% each year.
Unknowingly, Filipinos who do party appear to be consuming more alcohol than they could take. The overall increase is largely attributable that more youngsters are now drinking. In a survey conducted by the University of the Philippines, 60% of Filipino youths today are drinking alcoholic beverages.
Even at a young age, Filipino teenagers are starting to drink already. A study conducted by the East-West Center (EWC) in Hawaii showed 11% of boys began to drink by age 15. Only 4% of 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. 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 Cebu 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 of 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.
Twenty-one-year-old Marianne was having a grand time drinking together with her friends on the sixth floor of a building in Pasay 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.
“The cases of alcoholic drinking among the youngsters (between the age of 13 to 21 years old) have reached the 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.”
Many of these youngsters – some of the good kids – are involved in binge drinking. Some of them may be lucky, but there are those who may end up in the hospitals or, at worst, may die in an accident.
Most Filipinos appreciate a cold beer on a hot day or a glass of wine at dinner. That kind of responsible use of alcohol is a social lubricant that makes life a little more pleasant. But binge drinking is a different story.
Anne Mullens, in an article published by Reader’s Digest, offers this explanation: “Call it getting tanked, sloshed, blotto – binge drinking is typically defined as consuming five or more drinks for a man and four or more drinks for a woman on a single occasion.
“That’s enough to impair judgement, impede coordination, remove inhibitions, cause slurring of words – and potentially put someone at risk of serious health or social consequences, lasting brain damage and even death,” she adds.
A national survey from 1989 to 1990 in the Philippines among 15,082 high schools and the first year and second year college students found out that about 36% of high school students and 34.9% of college students had “used alcohol in their lifetime.”
Of high school students, 2.3% had “used alcohol that same day,” and 5.6% had “used alcohol in the past two to seven days.”
Whether in industrialized or developing countries, binge drinking among teenagers shows 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 (WHO).
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 during special occasions like Christmas celebrations, New Year’s Eve, birthday and wedding parties, and even during wakes.
The words “alcoholic abuse” and “problem drinker” typically conjure up the image of a chronic alcoholic. But binge drinking is more of a public health problem than alcoholism as it affects a higher percentage of young drinkers.
Mullens warns: “Unaccustomed to alcohol, young people often rapidly consume excessive amounts that push their blood alcohol concentrations to dangerously high levels. Since it takes at least 30 minutes for alcohol to be fully absorbed by the small intestine and enter the bloodstream, binge drinkers can ingest a fatal dose of alcohol before passing out.”
Surge of drinking among youths
What are the main reasons why there is now a surge of drinking among young people? In a survey conducted by the author, peer pressure has been cited as the main culprit. “It is a potent cause of more and widespread teen drinking of alcohol nowadays,” says Mariano Patalinjug, a father of four children. “By drinking, they are seeking approval from their friends. Because if their friends are drinking and they are not, they’re going to be ranked down.”
The media and the advertisements are also partly to be blamed. A study done in the United States has shown that young people who are exposed to advertisements for alcohol are likely to drink more. For every beer bought in the country, 80% of what the consumer pays reportedly is spent on advertising.
In some instances, parents also drive teenagers to drink. According to Peter R. Neñeria, a college student from the Ateneo de Davao University who conducted an investigative report on adolescent drinking, “parents who are extremely strict can cause their kids to become rebellious. In reprisal, children would ignore advice given to them and may even do the opposite like drinking and going home late at night.”
In addition, children who are not supervised by their parents (as they are very busy with their work and seldom see the activities of their children outside their homes) are also likely to drink.
“And also, maybe, the breakdown of the morals of our young,” says Rigor. “It is very palpable even in our city.”
There are several other reasons. Dr. Hartigan-Go summarizes them in these words: “Curiosity, low self-esteem and wanting to belong, taking risks and feeling invincible and challenging authority figures.”
In Othello, William Shakespeare penned: “I would not put a thief in my mouth to steal my brains.” The father of English literature was actually talking about alcoholic drinking.
So, why so much ado about drinking? “Harmful use of alcohol,” the United Nations health agency reports, “is associated with more than 60 types of diseases and other health conditions, including mental disorders and suicide, several types of cancer, and other non-communicable as well as intentional and unintentional injuries.
“It also is associated with other high-risk behaviors, including unsafe sex and the use of other psychoactive substances,” the WHO adds. The EWC study affirms: “Virtually no young people – boys or girls – use drugs without also drinking or smoking.”
According to WHO, “young people are more likely to suffer from alcohol-related traffic accidents, violence and family disruptions related to harmful use of alcohol than other age groups.”
Recent medical studies also show 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 another organ system and starts destroying the cells,” Dr. 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.”
Another tragic danger of alcoholic drinking – one often wrapped in stigma and silence – is the risk of death from alcohol poisoning, also called alcohol overdose. Medical science said alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, and it is fatally toxic at high levels. When blood alcohol levels climb rapidly, the body’s natural reflex is to vomit to purge itself of the poison.
Drinking too much too fast can shut down key bodily functions such as gag reflexes, breathing, heart rate, and brain function. The result can be choking on vomit, coma, or cardiac arrest.
Since drinking is acceptable social behavior among Filipinos, most physicians don’t consider alcohol poisoning as the probable cause of death. As a result, doctors or coroners end up writing “asphyxiation” or “cardiac arrest” as the cause of death.
Reducing binge drinking
As young people and teenagers are still not much aware of what they are doing, it is the responsibility of the parents and guardians to do something about it. Parents particularly have a key role in reducing binge drinking among their children.
“The importance of teenagers’ closeness to their parents and their responsiveness to 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 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 in a car accident. I also showed him what happens to our intestines when we drink too much.”
More importantly, parents should serve as role models for their children. “Children learn from their parents,” says Patrick Durst, a father, and retired UN 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.”