In General Knowledge for the Family, Physical & Mental Health

Binge Drinking: A Parent's Guide

While many kids have been known to give in to peer pressure and try the occasional beer, binge drinking is rapidly growing into a larger issue in schools and families across the country. Binge drinking has become the single most common recurring pattern in alcohol abuse in the United States. Binge drinking, by definition, is when drinking progresses to the point where a person’s blood alcohol content is above the legal limit, which is 0.08 percent.

What Is Binge Drinking?

The term binge drinking was used in the past to describe a period of drinking that took place over several days, i.e., a “bender.” Now, its more common use is to refer to a period where a large quantity of alcohol is consumed during a short period of time.

According to national surveys:

Binge drinking has become most commonplace among young adults, aged 18-34

Men are more than twice as likely as women to binge drink

A whopping 90 percent of underage alcohol consumption in the United States is completed through the practice of binge drinking.

According to The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the threshold for a binge drinking episode is 5 or more drinks for a male drinker in less than 2 hours, and 4 or more drinks for a female imbiber.

However, these numbers are not the only factor to be considered, as same day drinking benders and the total amount of alcohol consumed in the sitting have not been factored in to this particular study.

Health Risks

The onset of adolescence brings about the onset of more risk tasking types of behaviors, due to physiological changes. Binge drinking during adolescent years has been proven to have a strong link to alcoholism as an adult. 40 percent of adult alcoholics report that they took partook in binge drinking during their teenage years. The peak of alcoholism takes place during the ages of 18 and 23.

New studies have found that neurocognitive defects can take place with those who drink to excess, in addition to working memory damage. The consumption of alcohol is the third leading cause of all avoidable deaths, with binge drinking making up a large number of these cases. This style of drinking is also a leading cause of:

  • Alcohol poisoning
  • STDs
  • Serious injuries
  • Suicide
  • Meningitis

The excessive use of alcohol impedes several important functions of the brain. In addition to the aforementioned effects on memory, judgment and behavioral skills also suffer a decline. Motor skills, eye movement and short term memory occur.

In the case of binge drinkers, several detrimental effects to cognitive function take place as well. Some of these include verbal memory lapses, impaired auditory memory and struggling handling difficult tasks involving either.

Causes Of Binge Drinking

Despite the fact that roughly 5,000 young people perish each year due to binge drinking and the health risks it poses, this has done nothing to curb the rise of the trend among adolescents. A 2005 MTF study showed that 75 percent of high school seniors, more than 66 percent of high school sophomores and roughly 44 percent of eighth graders have all drank alcohol before. When younger people drink, more often than not, they drink to excess.

During these episodes, 2 to 5 drinks are consumed at one time. In the same MTF study, about 1 in 10 eighth graders and 1 in 4 10th and 12th graders reported that they had partaken in a binge drinking experience within the past two weeks. So why do young people drink?

Scientists believe that the human brain continues to develop into its twenties, during which risk tasking stops seeming like a sound choice and functions become further refined. Teen drinkers genuinely fail to realize the consequences to their actions and tend to seek out risks that their older counterparts do not.

The expectations that come with drinking large quantities of alcohol also play a role in teen binge drinking. Around the age of 13, children begin to view drinking as a positive experience and a fun time.

Alcohol tolerance at these ages is also unusually high, shattering the myth that youthful drinkers cannot drink as much as their older counterparts. Adolescents tend to experience the positive aspects of drinking, such as lack of inhibition in social settings, while bypassing the negatives, such as hangovers and clumsiness.

Personality traits can play into these choices, as well. A child who is anti-social or overly aggressive can be more susceptible to binge drinking. Kids who struggle in social situations or have high anxiety can begin to view drinking as a way to relax.

Obviously, being the child of an alcoholic or having a lengthy family history of alcohol abuse will place a teen at greater risk.

Effects Of Binge Drinking In Teens

One of the most dangerous effects that hasn’t been discussed yet is the proliferation of unsafe sexual practices between inebriated teens. Binge drinking leads to such risky behaviors and outcomes as:

  • Teen pregnancy
  • Date rape
  • Unprotected sex

Brain development during teen years can also be stunted with the use of alcohol. Motivation, addiction and the ability to control impulses can all be affected by binge drinking at a young age. Not only will it influence those factors, but balance can also suffer.

Alcohol can often act as a gateway to the use of other drugs. When used in combination with other drugs, such as heroin and marijuana, it amplifies the danger. The central nervous system can become compromised and slow the heart rate to far lower levels than normal.

Ways To Prevent Binge Drinking In Teens

The best way to stop binge drinking in young people is to not allow it to begin in the first place. As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Creating an environment that is intolerant to drinking of any kind is a good place to begin as any.

While no one would ever advocate that a parent never drink for fear that their child will mimic their behavior, it’s in a parent’s best interest not to drink in front of their child.

A teen is far more likely to follow your example, as opposed to your words. If a parent is making drinking alcohol appear fun and glamorous, they are more likely to heed what they see, as opposed to what they hear.

Allowing your child to exist within a world wherein good choices are not emphasized will undo all of the efforts put in by the anti-drinking programs aimed toward teens. It is a given that a child’s parents, teachers, school administrators and the like will deliver the right message.

But that message is going to be under constant attack from the media and from peers. The media portrays the consumption of alcohol as glamorous and peer pressure will always run rampant.

Communities do not often place a high point of emphasis on curbing teen drinking, chalking it up to a rite of passage or breathing a sigh of relief that their teen is not using harder drugs.

Youths are often quoted as saying it is easy for them to gain access to alcohol. Older siblings or acquaintances will purchase it for them, or they help themselves to their parents’ supply.

By sending these types of messages, it’s easy to see why teens can believe their actions don’t have serious consequences. Sending a more consistent message goes a long way toward curbing teen binge drinking.

Research shows that in order to enact successful teen binge drinking prevention, one, if not all of these strategies should been used:

Changing of Social Norms

When youths see that alcohol use is tacitly endorsed by the parents and lawmakers in the community, it gives the impression that drinking is no big deal. This is where responsibility falls on a community to band together and show a consistent zero tolerance policy toward teen drinking. By not allowing access to alcohol and strictly enforcing drinking laws, the message is delivered: alcohol consumption for young people is not accepted.

Consistent Law Enforcement

Studies have found that while underage laws exist across the board, they are not often enforced. Lack of enforcement creates the sense among young drinkers that their actions are acceptable. By not continuing to take a lackadaisical approach to underage drinking, law enforcement is doing their part to help curb a disturbing trend.

Make Sure Alcohol Is Unavailable

In all studies, one principle occurs throughout: if kids cannot procure alcohol, they will obviously drink less. Communities can help reduce alcohol availability to youths by more harshly punishing adults who are caught providing it to minors. In extreme cases, they can also reduce the numbers of establishments where alcohol is sold.

Amend Local Policies

Politicians can take on a more prominent role in limiting alcohol use among minors. They can raise the taxes on alcohol, boost the minimum drinking age, strictly enforcing zero tolerance ordinances, and raise awareness of social host liability laws.

How To Stop Binge Drinking In Teens

So, you’ve found out that your teenage son or daughter is participating in binge drinking. This may seem like the end of the world, you may feel like there is nothing you can do to fix this issue. Luckily, you have options available to you. By recognizing that your teen has a problem, you’re informed enough to find a solution.

If your teen comes home under the influence of alcohol and you wish to put a stop to this behavior, here is an outline for dealing with this serious issue.

Be Aware Of The Signs

If you smell alcohol on their breath, their clothing, and all of the telltale signs of intoxication are present (slurring, poor balance, glassy eyes), it is time to intervene.

Research What Contributed To The Incident

Are their friends drinking routinely? Has your child started running with a different crowd? Do they have a regular drinking home or area? All of these questions

Let Your Teen Know They Have Your Support

If you come down like a ton of bricks, you risk pushing your child further down the rabbit hole of binge drinking. Chances are your teen already knows their behavior is wrong on some level and is acting out in some way. What they need in this situation is a friend.

Do Not Confront Them While Intoxicated

During the period of intoxication, nothing you say is going to register in their memory. Your primary concern at this point is to keep them safe. You need the time to calm down and they need the time to sober up. Your message has a much better chance of sinking in when they are no longer intoxicated.

After staging your intervention, you’ll want to know that your child is sticking to the rules and is staying safe. Here are some tips for keeping tabs on your teen:

Spend Time With Them

Don’t just assume the problem is all better. Take the time to be around your teen and make yourself a regular presence in their life, even when friends are around.

Ask Questions

Find out where they’re going, who they are going with, how long they plan to be there. This goes double for when they arrive home. Look them over, ask about what they did and find out for yourself if they are staying sober.

Keep Tabs

Don’t be afraid to call your teen, check in and make sure they are adhering to the conditions you’ve set.

Develop A Rapport With Fellow Parents

The old cliché of “it takes a village to raise a child” comes to mind here. Be sure to be in contact with other parents, that way you can compare notes with each other and help to keep a watchful eye on each other’s children.

There is no surefire formula or guideline to follow to guarantee that your teen never binge drinks. Often, parents can do everything the right way and still end up having to deal with this growing issue.

All any parent can do in this situation is put their best foot forward, give their child the tools to discern right from wrong and hope for the best. Trust that you’ve taught your teen properly. If they do slip up, provide a helping hand. If you feel unable to control their behavior, there are professionals prepared to help you. Contact your family doctor and they will aid you in deciding where to start.

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