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Binge Drinking & Teens: Effects, Risks & Treatment Options

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Binge drinking is a serious matter. Teens often believe that they don’t drink because they only have a few drinks on the weekends or at the occasional party. Binge drinking, or drinking several drinks in a short period of time, is a widespread problem in teens and young adults. You don’t have to drink every day to have a problem with alcohol. Furthermore, if you binge drink, there are health hazards involved.

According to statistics from, one out of four teens in the US reports that they binge drink. Binge drinking is defined as having four or five drinks within two hours. At unsupervised parties, where guests have unrestricted access to alcohol, it may be hard to count the number of drinks. Teenagers may be vulnerable if they exhibit a willingness to take risks, experience peer pressure, or emotional problems. Alcohol binges may be followed by days or weeks of abstinence. Therefore, this can lure teens into believing that they’ve got their drinking under control.

Short-Term Risks

The teen years are a time of experimentation, intense emotions, and impulsive behavior. For a lot of teens, this age is also a time to test the effects of drugs and alcohol. Teens realize that alcohol can help her overcome social anxieties, forget about stress, or numb pain. Since alcohol is readily available, this substance is often a teen’s first drug of choice due to its accessibility.

On the surface, binge drinking may not seem like a dangerous behavior. After all, if you only have “a couple of beers” every other week or so, you don’t have a drinking problem, right?

Notable Hazards

A study from the American Psychological Association lists some of the hazards of binge drinking:

  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Accidental injuries, including falls and drowning
  • Drunk driving/motor vehicle accidents
  • Unprotected sex/sexually transmitted diseases
  • Violence/altercations
  • Suicide

Alcohol poisoning is one of the biggest risks of binge drinking because the body absorbs ethanol, the active ingredient in alcoholic drinks, faster than proteins, carbohydrates, or fats. It takes the body about an hour to process the alcohol through the liver, notes the Mayo Clinic. This means that downing four or five drinks in an hour gives your body more ethanol than it can handle which as a result, depresses the nervous system. Consequently, drinking too much can affect your muscle coordination, thought processes, heart rate, and breathing.

Alcohol Poisoning

The effects of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Severe confusion
  • Vomiting
  • A respiratory rate of fewer than eight breaths in 60 seconds
  • Sudden pallor or bluish skin
  • A drop in temperature
  • Unconsciousness
  • Death

If you’re with someone who shows signs of alcohol poisoning, get help immediately. Call 911, then stay with the person until emergency services arrive. If the person is vomiting, turn him over on his left side to prevent choking. Someone who’s very drunk should never be left alone, especially if he or she passes out.

The Dangers of Teen Binge Drinking

When you binge drink, you’re not giving your body enough time to catch up with the alcohol you’re consuming. That’s why it’s easy for an inexperienced drinker to reach a life-threatening level of intoxication. When you’re drunk, you’re more likely to take risks like driving, having unsafe sex, or using illegal drugs. Furthermore, you may be overcome with powerful emotions like anger, sadness, or affection. If your judgment is impaired by alcohol, it’s easy to make decisions that can shatter your future.

The actions you take when you’re a teenager can have profound repercussions in the future. The decision to drive after consuming multiple drinks may result in serious or fatal injuries. In addition, an altercation with a friend when you’re both drinking may lead to a broken relationship, an arrest and jail time. In conclusion, it’s a dangerous mistake to think that “having a few drinks” at a party can’t influence the way you spend the rest of your life.

Long-Term Effects

Binge drinking can have long-term effects on your health. It can increase your risk of weight gain, high blood pressure, sexual, and developmental problems. Researchers at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst conducted research use animals to determine how binge drinking may affect adolescents in adulthood. Research found that teen binge drinking may increase the risk of addiction and stress-related issues into adulthood. Due to studies like this, it is suggested that the long-term neurocognitive damage caused by occasional heavy drinking may actually be greater than the damage caused by non-binge drinking.

Over time, episodes of heavy drinking may interfere with the way you learn and remember. Alcohol can have a negative impact on your vital organs, including the brain, liver, and heart. Additionally, binge drinking may also affect your skin, making you appear puffy and older than you are.

Warning Signs of Binge Drinking

Many teens assume that because they drink only occasionally, they don’t have a problem with alcohol and they aren’t at risk of addiction. While binge drinking can be as indicative of addiction as daily drinking, parents tend to overlook the occasional alcohol binge. As a result they assume it’s just part of growing up.

Is Your Teen a Problem Drinker?

Your teen may be binge drinking on a regular basis if he or she:

  • Starts performing poorly at school or neglecting favorite activities or hobbies.
  • Has a change in appearance or weight. Regular alcohol consumption can cause weight gain, fluid retention, puffiness and bloating.
  • Starts hanging out with a new group of friends and abandoning old friendships. If your teenager starts bringing home new friends, take time to get to know them and their parents. Find out where they live, what their parents do, and whether adults are around to provide supervision.
  • Smells like alcohol after parties or on weekends. As ethanol is metabolized, the body may release the odor of alcohol in the breath or through perspiration. If your teenager smells like alcohol after coming home from a party, or has an odd odor the next day, he or she may be binge drinking.
  • Experiences sudden mood changes or periods of depression and fatigue. Alcohol is a depressant, and teens who binge drink may go through periods of lethargy and depression after a heavy drinking episode. They may sleep for most of the day after coming home from a friend’s house or express feelings of sadness and self-destructiveness. Signs of depression should be addressed immediately by a mental health professional. This is urgent if your teen refers to thoughts of suicide. You must act immediately.

Teaching Teens About Binge Drinking

The best time to start treatment for teenage binge drinking is before this dangerous practice begins. Parents should maintain an open dialogue about alcohol during their late childhood. It’s never too late to start talking about substance abuse or to seek help for a teen who’s in trouble.

If your teenager gets drunk one time at a party, they probably don’t need intensive rehabilitation services. One episode of binge drinking may start a pattern that can continue through a teen’s high school and college year but you can use the incident as an educational opportunity to teach them about how heavy alcohol use affects the brain and body. Fact sheets about alcohol abuse and binge drinking are available from public service agencies, 12-step groups, or local treatment centers.

As you talk with your teen, don’t be afraid to set rules and guidelines. During adolescence, it’s natural for kids to want to push boundaries. However, teens feel more secure knowing that they have rules to follow and clear expectations to meet. As a result, healthy boundaries can be established.

When Talking to Your Teen Isn’t Enough

Binges suggest that one may have a serious alcohol or drug addiction. Binge drinking may also be a sign of emotional disturbance, poor impulse control, or family conflicts. Teens who drink heavily are more likely to use illegal drugs or abuse prescription medication so sometimes talking to your teen isn’t enough to get him the help he needs.

Finding the best course of treatment for your teen requires careful consideration. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, over 1 million teens had a problem with alcohol as of 2002. Yet less than one-fourth of these teens received treatment. Teens need teen rehab. Substance abuse treatment for teenagers should target their unique physical, psychosocial, and emotional concerns.

Newport Academy offers treatment that helps teens recover. Our treatment programs provide tailored treatment that addresses underlying causes and conditions. This includes family history, psychosocial concerns, and health. The importance of getting family members involved in a teen’s rehabilitation is stressed throughout the Newport Academy program. Call us. We are here to help.