Binge-Drinking Teenage Girls Can Black Out, Get Into Trouble
(NEW YORK) -- After a few too many drinks, Holley, once a teenage binge drinker, was barreling down a highway at 90 miles per hour and running red lights. She said she didn't remember doing it until she saw herself on film.
Holley's exploits are featured in the documentary Faded: Girls & Binge Drinking, a movie about teenage girls who drink heavily because they feel enormous peer pressure to fit in. It offers a sobering message for unsuspecting parents and for teenage girls.
According to several surveys, an estimated one in four teen girls don't just drink, they binge, meaning five or more drinks in one sitting. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said more than 90 percent of alcohol consumed by youths is through binge drinking.
Rebeccah Thomas said she had no clue her 17-year-old daughter Erin was secretly binge drinking, until one night Erin wound up at a party with older boys that she didn't know well and landed in a police station.
"I thought I'll just take a couple drinks, I'll relax, I'll get to know these people, but then it became one or two beers and that turned into I'll take another shot and another shot," Erin Thomas said. "I probably consumed about four beers and I want to say 10-13 shots."
With all that alcohol in her system, Thomas said she passed out. But that night she got into a car with her boyfriend, who was busted for drinking after being pulled over, and Thomas was taken into custody by police. Her mother Rebeccah got a heart-stopping phone call from a police officer.
"At first the officer said, 'Are you Rebeccah Thomas and is your daughter Erin Thomas?' I just thought, 'Oh my gosh is she dead?' The worst, that's where your head is. I was just panicked," she said.
Often binge drinkers aren't the college campus misfits. They are just as likely to be "good girls," who are under enormous pressure to fit in. Erin Thomas said she first began lying to her mother when she was in the eighth grade.
"It was about me wanting to make a decision and knowing that I wasn't going to be able to do anything unless I did it behind her back," she said. "I think one of the main things that I struggled with is trying to be independent at a young age."
Underage bingers will often secretly "pre-game," pounding back large quantities of alcohol before their school dance or a big game, where alcohol is strictly banned.
"You're encouraging each other, 'just do it, just, fast, just, here-and telling each other tips on how to drink it faster, so you don't taste it,'" Holley said.
Alcohol mixed with wild partying is featured in several teen movies, including the American Pie series, Superbad, Mean Girls, and more recently, Project X -- Hollywood's take on a high school party run amok.
For girls, alcohol has the added danger of giving them courage to act out sexually, making them more vulnerable, and then providing an excuse for risky behavior the morning after.
During her 40 years as a pediatric trauma nurse at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland, Ore., Shelley Campbell said she has treated all sorts of ghastly consequences.
"About three-fourths of the injuries, all injuries [related to] falling, tripping over a curb, had alcohol on board," she said. "Or people heard there was a party, this happens frequently, and show up, and they can't get rid of them, and so we got knives pulled, we've got guns pulled, and then we have violence."
Just this month, a high school student was shot and killed at a Project X copycat party in Houston.
But beyond getting injured, a new study from Stanford University shows that teen girls are more likely than boys to physically damage their brains from binge drinking because they weigh less and their livers process alcohol differently. Brain scans conducted on intoxicated teenage girls have shown less activity in the areas of memory and spatial awareness.
As the documentary Faded showed, binge drinking can start young, which is why Campbell talks about the dangers of alcohol with middle schoolers, before puberty, and the anxiety that comes with it, hits.
Girls Inc., a non-profit organization that works with local communities to empower young girls, also has an outreach program in Portland, where they target 12-year-olds with exercises designed to prepare them for the inevitable temptations in their teenage years, including partying, boys and drinking.
A person is five times less likely to abuse alcohol as an adult if she can just delay drinking until after age 15, according to the National Institute of Health.
Looking back, Holley, who is now 28, said that perhaps the best prevention for binge drinking is helping a young girl beat back her escalating insecurities.
"I'd tell her that she's beautiful, and she's capable of doing whatever she wants to do, and I don't think I knew that, that I could be cool without it," Holley said.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio