Teens and Alcohol Poisoning—the Death You Don't See Coming

teens and drinkingI asked Elizabeth Larsen, who wrote our cover story this month about Alcohol Poisoning, to do a guest post about her experience working on this piece. Digging into this topic was such an intense experience for both of us—we both have teenagers, and what we discovered has changed how both of us address the subject of drinking in surprising ways. Read about Elizabeth’s experience working on the article,and I plead with you to make sure your teens or students reads the story too. (I've noticed that sometimes whenever I try and broach a subject like this, I can almost see my kids hitting the off switch. But if I give them something to read—even if it came from the magazine I edit—they seem to actually absorb the information I'm desperate to impart. I've heard a lot of  our teachers say the same thing. Go figure. Anyway, over to you Elizabeth.

As the mom of a high school-aged son, I thought I was fairly in-the-know about teen drinking. I’d been a teenager, after all, and so I’ve always been realistic that my son and his two younger siblings are likely to experiment with alcohol. But reporting a story on alcohol poisoning for Choices made me realize that when it comes to the drinking habits of today’s teens, I actually had a lot to learn: Starting with the fact that kids can, and do, die from getting drunk.

As this recent story shows, the rates of the most lethal forms of binge drinking haven’t budged in years. Our kids, it’s clear, need to be educated about the signs of alcohol poisoning, including passing out or vomiting. I’ve told my son that if someone he knows gets sick from drinking, he needs to call 911 immediately, even if he has been drinking himself. That’s a lot of responsibility to put on a kid, and I’m lucky that our home state of Minnesota will not prosecute teenagers if they are the first to report that a friend is in trouble. But after interviewing several parents who have lost children to alcohol poisoning, I’ve decided it’s a crucial conversation that I need to have with all three of my children.

These moms and dads pushed through almost unbearable grief to share their stories with me in the hope that other families might not have to endure the agony they feel each and every day. Educating my own kids about how to not only stay safe themselves, but also spot trouble and take action before it’s too late, is the best thing I can do to honor these parents and the children they’ll never see again.