The teenage years are characterized by intense curiosity, risk-taking, and boundary-pushing. Therefore, it is unsurprising that teenagers are likely to experiment with alcohol. Unfortunately, teenage binge drinking can have profoundly negative short- and long-term consequences.
What’s Considered Binge Drinking?
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, binge drinking is defined as:
“A pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or above.”
Adult men often reach a BAC of 0.08% when they consume five or more drinks within a two-hour span. Adult women who consume four or more drinks over two hours will likely reach 0.08% BAC.
Teenagers, on the other hand, have slightly different metrics for binge drinking:
- For girls between the ages of nine and 17, three drinks over the course of two hours meets the criteria for binge drinking.
- Binge drinking for boys is defined as:
- Between the ages of nine and 13, three drinks
- Between the ages of 14 and 15, four drinks
- Between the ages of 16 and 17, five drinks
Binge Drinking Statistics
Binge drinking has been steadily declining among teenagers in recent years. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration began tracking teenage binge drinking statistics in 2015 and found that:
- 5.8% of 12- to 17-year-olds reported binge drinking within the previous 30 days. In 2018, that number dropped to 4.7%.
- Data from Florida shows that between 2016-2017, 72,000 (5.1%) of 12- to 17-year-olds reported binge drinking within the previous 30 days.
- In 2015, 221,000 (0.7%) 12- to 17-year-olds reported heavy drinking (five or more binge drinking episodes within the past 30 days). By 2018, the number dropped to 131,000 (0.5%).
In addition, teenagers who participate in drinking games and prepartying are significantly more likely to drink heavily in college. Unfortunately, there is no reliable way to prevent teenagers from playing drinking games, but parents and mentors who are aware of the risks may be able to reduce the prevalence of binge drinking associated with drinking games and pregaming.
Teenage boys are more likely to engage in binge drinking than girls, but a nuanced understanding of the significance of gender as a risk factor for binge drinking and how gender differences can be used to tailor prevention and treatment plans remains an area of active research.
Prepartying & Drinking Games Can Lead to Heavier Drinking Among Teens
Among the most dangerous activities that teenagers can participate in are drinking games and “prepartying”, which is the consumption of alcohol before attending a planned event.
These “games” often cause teenagers to binge drink incredibly dangerous amounts of alcohol in a very short amount of time:
- A 2015 study found that the average number of weekly drinks for high school students who played drinking games was 8.43 drinks, compared to 1.5 drinks for students who did not play.
- Pregamers had an average weekly drink total of 8.6, versus 2.4 for non-prepartiers.
It’s important that if teens are going to choose to drink, that they do so responsibly, or else they risk facing consequences that can potentially be long-lasting.
Effects of Binge Drinking on Teenage Development
Teenagers are undergoing substantial physical and psychological development. This can be adversely affected by binge drinking. A great deal of research has recently been published, demonstrating that alcohol use by teenagers can cause significant, long-term changes in brain structure and function.
Adverse physical health, psychological health, and developmental consequences of teenage binge drinking may include:
- Alcohol poisoning
- Head trauma
- Reduced brain volume
- Memory loss
- Cognitive impairment
- Increased risk for future alcohol dependence
- Increased risk for future substance use disorder
- Poor school performance
- Impaired social skills
- Inability to pay attention
- Lack of self-regulation
Other Consequences of Binge Drinking
The teenage years are formative, and mistakes made during this time can be amplified throughout adulthood. Binge drinking can have severe short- and long-term social, familial, and/or legal ramifications.
Short-term effects of binge drinking include:
- Blackouts/memory loss
- Personal injury
- Injury to others
- Unsafe sex
- Pregnancy and/or STDs
- Sexual assault
- Drunk driving
Long-term effects of binge drinking include:
- Liver disease
- Heart disease
- Widespread inflammation (which is associated with everything from mental health disorders to cancer)
How to Quit Binge Drinking
The first step towards quitting binge drinking is identifying the pattern of binging and what influences the decision to binge drink. Teenagers who regularly binge drink may be facing an alcohol use disorder, and evaluating their relationship with alcohol can be very informative. Finding a counselor or addiction specialist who is experienced with teenage alcohol use may be the most effective way to be successful in quitting and preventing relapse. Next Generation Village can provide addiction assessments and help you plan the most appropriate course of action.
Binge Drinking Prevention
The best way to prevent binge drinking is not to drink. However, given that many teenagers will drink anyway, it is important that they understand how to keep themselves safe. Again, binge drinking is defined as three (for girls) or three to five (for boys) drinks consumed over the course of approximately two hours. Teens can avoid reaching this threshold by:
- Drinking slowly
- Alternating between alcohol and water
- Eating a full meal before drinking
Peer pressure can be hard to ignore for teenagers. If you are a parent or a mentor to a teenager, be sensitive to the unique challenges that teenagers face while stressing the risks and dangers that are linked to binge drinking. The best policy is a zero-tolerance policy, but if your teen doesn’t trust you to help them when they need support and guidance, they may not confide in you.
If you are concerned that your teenager is binge drinking or struggling with an alcohol use disorder, help is available. At Next Generation Village, our experts lead comprehensive alcohol rehab programs exclusively for teens. They deserve the best chance at a healthy, productive future. Call us today to explore treatment options.