Two Tennessee teens lost their lives last month as the suspected result of drinking racing fuel mixed with Mountain Dew. Since then, two other Robertson County teens have come forward to say they drank the deadly combo as well, making four cases so far recorded with the Tennessee Poison Center at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC).

The investigation into the deaths of the two teen boys is still ongoing and though police suspect the lethal cocktail led to the young men’s deaths, they have not yet officially confirmed the consumption of racing fuel. The official cause of death is currently pending autopsy reports from the medical examiner’s office.

Underage alcohol consumption

For many teens, consuming alcohol is a right of passage, regardless of whether or not it is legal for them to do so. Whether it’s the glamour of a fancy cocktail touted by their favorite movie and TV show characters or the sense of rebellion and boundary testing it represents, alcohol is attractive to young people and its abuse by underage teenagers is a very serious problem in the U.S.

According to

Nearly 7,000 children per day under the age of 16 take their first drink in the U.S.
Those who begin drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcoholism than those who begin at age 21
More than 1,700 college students are killed each year as a result of alcohol-related injuries and accidents
Underage alcohol use costs the nation an estimated $62 billion annually

Why teens are drinking racing fuel

While we all know and may expect the realities and risks associated with underage drinking, not many parents think to give their children a warning about drinking racing fuel. So why are teens suddenly drinking racing fuel?

The answer is simple confusion about the term alcohol and the lack of understanding that there are different types of alcohol, with different levels of toxicity. According to VUMC Medical Director, Dr. Donna Segar, “They thought they knew what it was, that it was a substitute for alcohol,” Seger said. “They thought they would get the same effects as alcohol, but they weren’t aware of how toxic it was.”

This racing fuel, like the kind used in drag racing, is made up of nearly 100% methanol (a non-drinkable form of alcohol) that is used primarily for industrial and automotive purposes. Though the initial effects of drinking methanol may be similar to those produced by the more ingestible form of alcohol, ethanol, (commonly used in alcoholic beverage production) with continued intake and/or in high concentrations, methanol can result in symptoms ranging from blurred vision, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea to seizures, blindness, coma and death, depending on how much is consumed.

How to protect your teen

So what can you do to ensure your teen doesn’t make this deadly mistake? Just as is the case with the ever-trendy Dangerous Dares, communication is the key to keeping your child safe. When you hear about risky behavior among teens or children in the news or even in your area, make sure to educate yourself and then your teen about the reality of the risks involved. Take care to assure them that you’re always available to help them should a question or problem arise – no judgment.

When it comes specifically to drinking racing fuel, it pays to take the time to educate your child on which forms of alcohol are non-edible, what the dangers are, and what to do should one of their friends suggest or admit to drinking these poisons.

To learn more check out the 5 Ways Parents Can Prevent Teenage Drinking on US News and World Report’s Health section.