Teen Alcohol Use: The Risks of Binge Drinking
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Although it is illegal to drink under the age of 21, statistics show that teens and young adults between the ages of 12 and 20 consume 11% of all alcohol in the U.S., with 90% of that classified as binge drinking.[1] Binge drinking is a dangerous activity that can lead to severe consequences and even death. Many teens don’t realize the impact binge drinking can have on their lives until it’s too late. We’re going to take a closer look at excessive teen alcohol use, such as binge drinking, the risks it brings, as well as what you can do if you suspect your child has a problem.

What is Considered Binge Drinking?

Binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more drinks in one sitting for men and four or more drinks in one sitting for women.[2] Many teens engage in binge drinking through drinking games, which have become increasingly popular. But there is nothing childlike about these types of games.

When teens consume excessive amounts of alcohol in one sitting, it causes blood alcohol levels in the body to rise to dangerous levels in just a short time.[3] When this happens, the liver can’t keep up with the alcohol in the system, putting significant stress on the body. This can lead to a variety of dangerous consequences.

Binge Drinking Consequences for Teens

Alcohol Poisoning

When the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream is so high that it impacts breathing, alcohol poisoning is setting in. Teens metabolize alcohol less efficiently, so they are at a greater risk of developing alcohol poisoning than adults. It takes less alcohol for a teen to get drunk and stay away than for an adult.[3]

If someone is experiencing alcohol poisoning, they may be passed out and unresponsive to any attempt to wake them up. They may also not be able to stand without help. Their skin can be clammy or cool or even purplish and flushed. Some people who are experiencing alcohol poisoning can also be vomiting and have slow or irregular breathing.

Car Accidents

Binge drinking can result in car accidents that can impact not only the driver but also innocent others. Statistics show that one in three-car crash deaths involve drivers with alcohol in their blood, which is above the legal limit.[4] Research has also indicated that 8% of high school students admit they drove after drinking, and 24% got into a car with a driver who had been drinking.

Impaired Judgment

Besides getting into a car with a drunk driver, binge drinking also impairs teens’ judgment in other ways. They may engage in risky behavior, such as having unprotected sex. This can lead to sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancy.

They may also find themselves in physical, verbal, or sexually violent situations due to their inability to make sound decisions.

Misuse of Other Substances

When teens are binge drinking, they may tend to misuse other substances. Because their judgment is impaired, the thought of trying an illegal drug may not seem as dangerous as it would if they were sober. This, combined with the alcohol already in their bodies, can be extremely dangerous. Unfortunately, teens who are binge drinking may not realize this until it is too late. This can also lead them down a path to continue using drugs and form an addiction.

Poor Physical Health

Binge drinking can impact physical health as statistics show that people who binge drink during their teen years are more likely to have high blood pressure by the time they are 24 and be overweight.[5]

Mental Health Issues

When teens binge drink, it can lead to mood swings and depression. They may find themselves drifting away from their friends who are not drinking and become isolated.

Poor School Performance

Binge drinking can disrupt sleep patterns, which can make it challenging to get a good night’s rest and concentrate throughout the day. This can lead to poor academic performance as teens have trouble staying awake and focusing in class.[5] This can also result in poor work performance for teens with an after-school job.

Long-Term Effects

The long-term impact binge drinking can have on teens is far-reaching because a teen’s brain is not yet fully developed. Heavy drinking can affect the neurons in the brain, slow down communication, and change the brain’s structure. It can damage tissues, impairing a teenager’s memory and learning ability.[6]

What to Do if You Suspect Your Child Binge Drinks

If you suspect your child is binge drinking, it’s essential to have a serious talk with them about the consequences. Listen to what they have to say as you explain all of the things that can result from binge drinking. It’s essential to approach them and the topic in a non-judgmental way. This may involve including a healthcare professional in the discussion so that they can understand what can happen if they binge drink.

Never believe that the problem will go away by itself without some intervention. The “they’re just kids attitude” can result in severe consequences. Parents and guardians need to understand that teen drinking is a real problem that needs to be taken seriously.

Seek Help for Teen Alcohol Use at Ember Recovery

Ember Recovery is committed to helping teens with a teen alcohol use problem. We provide residential youth programs for teens in Iowa that help to treat their substance abuse disorder as well as many other issues. Ember Recovery offers individualized recovery plans because we understand that each teen is different and needs a plan tailored to their needs. Our staff takes the time to get to know your teen and understand how to help them get on a sober path. Our work does not stop there. When teens leave Ember Recovery, they can also take part in our aftercare program that provides the continued support they need to succeed.

To learn more about how the Ember Recovery team can help your teen, call us today or reach out online.



[1] https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/underage-drinking.htm

[2] https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/binge-drinking.htm

[3] https://childmind.org/article/teaching-teen-binge-drinking/

[4] https://www.cdc.gov/transportationsafety/impaired_driving/impaired-drv_factsheet.html

[5] https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/binge-drink.html

[6] https://www.center4research.org/binge-drinking-teens-young-adults/