Eagle County teens admit to binge drinking, suicidal thoughts | VailDaily.com

Eagle County teens admit to binge drinking, suicidal thoughts

Sarah Mausolf
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – One third of local students who took a survey admitted to binge drinking within the past 30 days.

And 15 percent said they had seriously considered committing suicide.

Those are trends Eagle County school officials say they find troubling. The school board heard from district research director Andrej Birjulin this week about the Eagle River Youth Coalition’s Healthy Kids Colorado Survey.

Students at four high schools in Eagle County took the most recent survey in fall 2009. The results include answers from 1,269 students from Eagle Valley, Battle Mountain, Red Canyon and Vail Christian high schools.

Thirty two percent of students said they had indulged in five or more drinks within several hours at some point in the past 30 days. While that number is up only 1 percentage point since 2007, it’s slightly higher than the national average of 24 percent.

Superintendent Sandra Smyser said there’s a gap between how generations view binge drinking.

“I know it’s part of the college environment and it’s just becoming more accepted in our culture that people get completely blasted,” she said.

Recreational drinking is also a social norm in the valley’s resort culture, added Mike Gass, the district’s executive director of student services.

“People come here to be part of the relaxation and rejuvenation of the resort area,” he said. “Our kids live that.”

On the flip side, the economy is creating more stress for families, leading some kids to using alcohol as a coping mechanism, Gass said.

Binge drinking is something folks from the youth coalition are working to prevent, Program Director Karen Koenemann said.

“Binge drinking can lead to more serious things like going to the hospital and, potentially, dying from alcohol poisoning,” she said.

The school district also has two part-time counselors who work with students struggling with substance abuse, Gass said.

Along with looking at drug use, school officials examined depression. Nine percent of students said they had attempted suicide in the past year.

However, nowhere near 9 percent of local teenagers have showed up in the emergency room with a suicide attempt, Avon psychologist Henry Goetze said.

“I don’t think we know what constitutes a suicide attempt in these kids’ minds,” he said. “Could it be taking an extra pill? Could it be drinking after having taken a pill that was passed around at a party?”

Suicidal thoughts are a serious issue, although they represent the first of several steps toward suicide, he said. Goetze sits on a committee that works to prevent suicides in Eagle County. He said that group recently launched programs in the schools that discourage suicide.

Adolescence is marked by a strong desire to be loved and embraced by one’s peers, Goetze said. Some teens turn to the idea of suicide when they are feeling unloved and want to be noticed.

“It’s a way to get people to express their love and caring for you,” he said. “It is a very dramatic means by which to get people to surround you and support you.”

Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or smausolf@vaildaily.com.

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