Teen Binge Drinking

According to studies from the U.S. Department of Justice, binge drinking accounts for 90 percent of all the alcohol consumed by teenagers. These underage drinkers don’t sip a drink slowly, they take it down quickly and the effects can be very dangerous.

Binge drinking used to mean drinking heavily over several days. The current research definition of binge drinking is having five or more drinks in a row at least once in the previous 2 weeks. Heavy binge drinking includes three or more such episodes in 2 weeks. According to a study published in the January 2007 issue of Pediatrics magazine, almost half of 15,214 teenagers surveyed admitted to having had alcohol in the past month. And 64% of those who drank said they’d had five or more drinks in a row.

Risk factors include family environment, peer group attitudes, community attitudes, childhood trauma, genetic predisposition, social traditions, advertising, and the availability of alcohol to underage drinkers. With so many significant risk factors for binge-drinking behavior, this complex phenomenon cannot be fully explained by any one influence. Research indicates that binge-drinkers are more likely to have parents who drink or abuse substances and are more likely to have little parental supervision.

Unfortunately teens do not perceive themselves as alcoholics because they do not drink every day, so they feel occasional binge drinking is okay. They also tend to anticipate a greater number of positive effects and a smaller number of negative effects from drinking than their peers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) http://www.cdc.gov/, binge drinkers are five times more likely to have sex, 18 times more likely to smoke cigarettes, four times more likely to smoke marijuana, and four times more likely to get into physical fights with others. Binge drinkers are 21 times more likely to miss class, fall behind in schoolwork, damage property, injure themselves, engage in unplanned or unprotected sex, get in trouble with the police, and drink and drive. Research from Columbia University shows alcohol is the leading cause of accidents, murder and rape among teens. Experts say it’s the most dangerous drug of all. Teens who binge drink could be risking serious damage to their brains now and increasing memory loss later in adulthood. According to the results of the 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings (NSDUH), more than one-fifth (23.0 percent) of persons aged 12 or older participated in binge-drinking within the last 30 days.

Other statistics to consider:

  • The average girl takes her first sip of alcohol at age 13. The average boy takes his first sip of alcohol at age 11.
  • Underage drinking causes over $53 billion in criminal, social and health problems.
  • Seventy-seven percent of young drinkers get their liquor at home, with or without permission.
  • Students who are binge drinkers in high school are three times more likely to binge drink in college.
  • Nearly 25 percent of college students report frequent binge drinking, that is, they binged three or more times in a two-week period.
  • Autopsies show that patients with a history of chronic alcohol abuse have smaller, less massive and more shrunken brains.
  • Alcohol abstinence can lead to functional and structural recovery of alcohol-damaged brains.

Unfortunately providing teens with a list of statistics does not go far in terms of preventing binge drinking. Teens tend to believe they are invincible and do not believe the statistics apply to them. Teens benefit more from hearing about real-life examples of teens who have suffered consequences of binge drinking. Meeting other teens who have suffered consequences from binge drinking is particularly effective.

About Steven Petrus

Dr. Steven Petrus is a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in psycho-educational assessment, child, adolescent and family therapy.
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