of the alcohol consumed by teenagers is consumed
in the form of
By 11th grade, that percentage increases to
almost three-fourths of students, with half
having consumed a drink in the past 30 days.
An especially terrifying statistic is that many
of these kids are then getting behind the wheel
— a third of the 11th-graders polled admitted to
driving after drinking.
Another statistic that’s hard to swallow (pun
intended) and highly relevant to underage binge
drinking in the county is that Marin adults lead
the state, and the country, in binge drinking
rates as well. One out of four adults in Marin is
a binge drinker, a rate nearly 50 percent higher
than California and national averages. That’s
some serious modeling behavior. Add extreme
affluence to the mix — widely considered a
driving factor in alcohol consumption due to,
among other reasons, increased access — as
well as intense pressure to perform combined
with what some experts politely dub permissive
parenting, and you have the makings of a catastrophe teetering on a hair trigger in Marin.
Headlines seem to be popping up everywhere touting teen binge drinking in Marin as the highest in the nation. The reports are generally
supported with anecdotal evidence involving
stomach-pumping emergency room visits and
worse, tales of parents who answer the phone
at 2 a.m. only to learn that their child will never
be returning home again. And the stories, all of
them, are true — in this county, underage kids
are drinking, and particularly binge drinking, at
drastic, dangerous and flat-out desperate levels.
According to state-funded reports, the rate
of teen binge drinking (defined by the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention as five or
more alcoholic drinks in a two-hour period) in
Marin is staggering compared to that of other
counties in California as well as the rest of the
country. Last year, the Marin County Civil
Grand Jury issued a report labeling youth binge
drinking a public health crisis in the county.
The old adage is that statistics can be
manipulated, but it’s hard to see how in this
case. Respected national surveys report that
any where between 16 to 22 percent of teenagers binge-drink. According to the most recent
California Healthy Kids Survey (2009–11), the
statewide average for binge drinking among
high school juniors is 22 percent. In that same
survey, 34 percent of Marin 11th-graders admitted to binge drinking in the past 30 days, a rate
55 percent higher than in the rest of the state.
Other studies put those figures even higher.
In a 2012 Marin County Youth Commission
survey examining youth access to alcohol, 44
percent of responding sophomores and seniors
admitted to binge drinking. And the practice
starts at an early age in Marin — 6 percent of
seventh-graders in the county admit to it.
With regard to general alcohol consumption,
survey results reveal that about one-quarter
of Marin seventh-graders and nearly half of
ninth-graders have had a full alcoholic drink.
The Issue in Marin
In this well-to-do county, it’s easy to say that
some parents may seem more concerned with
striving for success than with particulars of
children’s lives. The affluence here tends to
breed kids with a certain offhand brand of
entitlement, compounded by parents who are
often more engaged in the moving and shaking required to afford a high-end lifestyle than
in keeping track of Junior’s day-to-day doings.
Some may even be unwittingly setting an
example with their own drinking and permissive alcohol policies (unspoken or not). In fact,
for Marin parents wondering why kids are
binge-drinking in record numbers, experts
have some tough advice: Look in the mirror.
Here are specific arguments as to why:
1 AFFLUENCE Since the YMCA Marin County
Youth Court was founded in 2004, Don Carney,
the director, has seen close to a thousand cases,
the vast majority involving alcohol abuse.
While the program’s goal is to keep kids out of
the juvenile justice system and teach them to
make better decisions about risk-taking, the