Spring is traditionally a time of celebration for students that is marked by graduations, parties, and proms. But these annual rites of passage often strike fear in the hearts of parents because of the potential perils involved. Two of these perils – tanning and binge drinking – can pose serious health hazards with potentially long-lasting—even fatal—effects, so it’s important to learn the truth about these risky behaviors and how to protect yourself or your child. As your child gets older and asserts more independence, having an open dialogue about these issues will ensure that he or she learns about safety from you, instead of from his or her friends, who might be misinformed.
How Is Tanning Dangerous?
Many people consider a tan to be a sign of robust health, but in fact, that healthy-looking glow is a bad sign. Whether you acquire a tan on the beach, through indoor use of a tanning bed, booth, or sunlamp, or through incidental exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, you are damaging your skin. Over time and with repeated exposure, this damage can lead to wrinkles, brown spots, loss of skin elasticity, and skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the United States. What’s more, the Skin Cancer Foundation reports that worldwide, the number of cases of skin cancer due to tanning is higher than the number of cases of lung cancer due to smoking. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, tanning can also cause immune suppression, eye damage, and allergic reactions.
Tanning Bed Facts
Indoor tanning – using tanning beds, booths, or sun lamps – is quite prevalent, especially among young people, despite the fact that annually, more than 419,000 new skin cancer cases are attributed to the practice. Indeed, research cited by the Skin Cancer Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicates that 55 percent of college students, 13 percent of all high school students, and 32 percent of 12th grade girls have tanned indoors.
Since the advent of indoor tanning devices, many misconceptions have arisen about their safety. Let’s clear up any myths by looking at the facts below.
Indoor tanning is not safer than suntanning. Proponents of indoor tanning often downplay the risks, claiming that these devices are safer than suntanning because the exposure time and UV light intensity can be controlled. However, the sun lamps used in indoor tanning may be more dangerous than natural sunlight because UV exposure indoors is constant, regardless of cloud cover, time of day, or the season. In fact, studies show that those who tan indoors are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, than those who have never tanned indoors. And according to the CDC, people who start tanning at 35 or younger have a 59 percent higher risk of melanoma. Bottom line? Any form of tanning can be dangerous to your health.
A base tan does little to protect you. A tan is a visual sign of damage to your skin, and it does little to protect you from further damage. In fact, people who use indoor tanning devices may be more prone to developing a sunburn.
Indoor tanning is not a safe way to boost vitamin D levels. Any use of tanning beds or similar devices increases the risk of skin cancer. Most people can get all the vitamin D they need from incidental sun exposure and a balanced diet that includes dairy products, breads, fish, and eggs.
Certain indoor tanning practices pose the greatest health risk. Those who use tanning beds without wearing protective goggles are risking serious eye injury, including cancer and cataracts. Tanning for the maximum time recommended for a particular tanning bed during your first session, or failing to observe the recommended exposure times for your skin type, can result in a painful sunburn. Some medications and certain cosmetics can make your skin extremely sensitive to UV light, so be sure to consult your physician or pharmacist.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, the best advice on tanning, regardless of age, gender, or ethnic background, is to “go with your own glow” and avoid UV exposure when possible, whether from natural sunlight or indoor tanning devices. You can protect your skin from the sun by limiting your time outdoors between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., wearing protective clothing including UV-blocking sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat, and using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15+ (or SPF 30+ if you plan to be outdoors for an extended time).
While students often equate graduation and prom celebrations with non-stop fun and socializing, things can quickly turn dangerous – and sometimes deadly – as a result of binge drinking. CDC studies show that binge drinking is the most common form of alcohol consumption among youth, accounting for 90 percent of the alcohol consumed by those younger than 21. Combine that statistic with National Highway Traffic Safety Administration research indicating that historically, 21 to 30 percent of the alcohol-related traffic fatalities in youth younger than 21 occur during prom and graduation season, and it’s clear that this time of year is fraught with risk.
What Is Binge Drinking?
Binge drinking is defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism as a pattern of alcohol consumption that brings the percentage of alcohol in the bloodstream – referred to as the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level – to 0.08 percent or higher. In men, this level translates to five or more drinks consumed on a single occasion, generally within two hours. In women, this level corresponds to an intake of four or more drinks over the same period of time. The definition of one drink varies according to the type of beverage. The CDC considers the following to be a “standard drink”:
- 12 ounces of beer
- 8 ounces of malt liquor
- 1.5 ounces (or a “shot”) of 80-proof distilled spirits/liquor
- 5 ounces of wine
What Risks are Associated with Binge Drinking?
Binge drinking can give rise to multiple health problems. Not surprisingly, careless consumption of alcohol is associated with an increased incidence of:
- Alcohol poisoning
- Unintentional injuries (e.g., drowning, falls, motor vehicle accidents, and burns)
- Other injuries involving sexual assault, domestic violence, and weapons
- Risky sexual behavior (unplanned or unprotected sexual relations), which may lead to sexually transmitted diseases or unintended pregnancy
- Sexual dysfunction
- Cardiovascular changes
- Liver and neurologic damage
- Legal trouble
The risk of alcohol poisoning, especially in those who combine alcohol with other drugs or stimulants, is one of the most dangerous side effects of binge drinking. This is because excessive levels of alcohol in the body can impact critical brain functions that control heart rate, breathing, the gag reflex, and body temperature, and these changes may result in death. Indeed, according to the CDC, an average of six people per day die of alcohol poisoning in the United States.
Signs of alcohol poisoning can include:
- Altered (irregular, slow, shallow, absent) breathing patterns
- Vomiting, especially while passed out
- Mental confusion
- Skin changes (cold, blue, clammy, pale)
- Unresponsiveness (to stimulation)/unconsciousness
In the meantime, do what you can to make the affected person comfortable and protected from injury. If he or she is lying down, position the person on his or her side so if vomiting occurs, material won’t be aspirated into the lungs. Someone should stay in the room and check on the person every 10 to 15 minutes.
If you suspect alcohol poisoning:
- DON’T leave the affected person alone to “sleep it off.”
- DON’T encourage the person to eat, drink, shower in cold water, or exercise.
- DON’T expect to be able to reason with the affected person, and refrain from restraining him or her. Joking or bargaining may prove to be more effective strategies to encourage compliance.
How Can You Protect Yourself and Others from Binge Drinking?
If you or someone you love is planning to participate in an event that is likely to involve alcohol consumption, safety should be your No. 1 concern. Since peer pressure and an unrestrained crowd mentality are often significant factors influencing binge drinking, make a pact with a friend to monitor each other’s behavior and drinking pattern (pace and quantity consumed). Group pressure may be strong, but personal relationships and shared responsibility can be helpful deterrents to binging and its dangerous consequences.
Other effective strategies include:
- Knowing your tolerance for alcohol and when to stop drinking before you reach your limit.
- Staying hydrated at all times.
- Declining drinks offered by strangers.
- Not leaving your drink unattended.
- Appointing a designated driver or using public transportation.
As mentioned previously, if you witness signs of alcohol poisoning, don’t wait – call 911 or go to an emergency room immediately. If your child is heading out to parties or events where alcohol is available, let him or her know that you are always willing to pick your child up – with no judgment – if he or she is too drunk to drive and does not have a ride home. If your child is afraid that you will “catch” him or her drinking, he or she might be more likely to drive home drunk or accept a ride with a friend or stranger who also might not be in a condition to drive. Let your child know that you would rather have him or her call you to arrange a safe ride home than risk his or her life or someone else’s by driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
For additional information on alcohol abuse and dependence, CDPHP® offers several helpful resources.