Research Shows Binge Drinking a Major Problem for Teens
Binge drinking is defined as having four or more alcoholic drinks during a two- to three-hour period. Typically, someone who is binge drinking is not looking to just relax or have fun at a party; they are seeking the “high” of intoxication.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that almost 60% of high school students who drink alcohol are also binge drinkers, and more than 40% of those binge drinkers consumed eight or more drinks in a row. Binge drinking is risky, frequently causing falls and other accidents, impaired judgment, and can result in alcohol poisoning.
In the past, binge drinking tended to peak during the college years and then drop, but now a growing number of young adults are binge-drinking into their mid to late 20s.
With so many teens, and now young adults, engaging in this dangerous behavior, it’s important for parents to be aware of the latest news. Here is some recent research about binge drinking:
- In the February 2019 edition of Translational Psychiatry, researchers found that binge drinking during the teen years can have long-lasting negative effects on the part of the brain involved in emotion, fear and anxiety.
- In March 2019, the Washington Post reported that college officials are becoming increasingly concerned about a new practice called about “drunkorexia,” when students refuse to eat all day before consuming alcohol. With no food to slow down the absorption of the alcohol, the effects of the drug hit quickly. Drunkorexia is most often seen in young women who want to party while staying extremely thin.
- In the April 2018 edition of the Lancet Medical Journal, research found that any more than five drinks a week on average can take years off a person’s life. An international team of researchers looked at years of data from 600,000 people in 19 countries. People who reported drinking more had higher rates of stroke, heart disease, deadly high blood pressure and fatal aortic aneurysms.
- A May 2019 study published in JAMA reported that severe alcohol-related liver disease is on the rise, likely due to heavy binge drinking in young adults. And a study published in the summer of 2018 in BMJ found that an increasing number of young people were dying from alcohol related liver failure. Experts believe that binge drinking occasionally is far worse for the liver than drinking one drink every day.
- Research from Loyola University in 2015 shows that young, healthy adults who binge drink significantly harm their immune system. “Evidence of a potentially hazardous drop in the body’s infection-fighting, wound-healing power shows up in binge drinkers’ blood steams just two hours after they downed their drinks.”
What Parents Can Do
Experts say that parents play a pivotal role in controlling teen binge drinking, and they can do a lot to prevent teens from engaging in this risky behavior:
- Talk to your child about alcohol and why you want them to remain drug-free. Inform your child of the risks associated with alcohol and drugs – you might even give them the recent research above. This type of conversation should begin when your child enters middle school and continue throughout their middle and high school years.
- Let your teen know that it’s easy to misjudge how quickly alcohol’s effects start. Drinkers may not recognize that their critical decision-making abilities, reaction time, and driving-related skills are already diminished long before they show physical signs of intoxication.
- Dispel the common myth that drinking coffee after drinking will sober them up. Caffeine may help with drowsiness but not with the effects of alcohol on decision-making or coordination. Even after someone stops drinking, alcohol in the stomach and intestine continues to enter the bloodstream, resulting in impaired judgment and coordination for hours.
- Use media to actively engage your teen. When you see an ad in a magazine or a scene on their TV show or movie, discuss the things the media doesn’t show you such as the fact that their brain is still developing and drinking can make you less smart. Point out that the media is glamorizing teens partying, because it makes them money.
- Keep lines of communication open. Nurture a relationship in which teens feel safe talking about anything that is bothering them. Many families find eating meals together to be helpful in engaging their teens in conversation.
- Be actively involved in your teen’s life by attending their events, getting to know their friends, visiting their school, and finding activities to do together.
- Keep teens busy with positive activities. Children who have a passion or are meaningfully engaged in sports, academic or social activities are less prone to get involved with drug use. Encourage them to make friends with teens who share their values.
Experts say that modeling the behavior we want to see in our teenagers is the biggest influencer in their future behavior. Recognize that if your teen sees you coming home from work and indulging in three or four alcoholic beverages to “unwind,” or sees you on the weekend drunk after a dinner out with your friends, they will believe that binge drinking is normal and acceptable behavior.