Teenage Binge DrinkingBinge drinking, seen by many as an inevitable part of growing up, can cause untold damage on a young person's life
Often seen as a group activity in an atmosphere of celebration or camaraderie, binge drinking can be the first stepping-stone on a dangerous road to prolonged and more consistent alcohol abuse if it’s not controlled.
Teenage binge drinking in particular is of grave concern not only because it obviously violates the age restrictions imposed on alcohol consumption within the U.S., but also because of the risks associated with such behavior- such as criminal activity and the very obvious health implications.
Though a majority of teens partake in binge drinking mostly to celebrate in a social setting and to get completely drunk, a few reasons stand out as being catalysts for excessive drinking in this age group:
Risk taking: Research has shown that our brain develops till we are well into our mid-20s, and many scientists are inclined to believe that this lengthy development phase may perhaps explain the ‘antagonistic’ behavior often adopted by teenagers. This includes a teenager’s ‘need’ to rebel and participate in a certain situation for the thrill of it. Such thrill-seeking behavior can manifest as the urge to indulge in a wild night of binge drinking and getting a hangover the next day.
Pressure and expectations: Though not always an underlying factor, the stress of having to perform well academically, as well as other expectations that are thrust on a student, can lead him/her to choose to just let go of all inhibitions at a party and binge drink to the point of feeling ‘less burdened’. In other words, some students binge drink to ease their stress and forgot their responsibilities for a while.
Peer pressure: Many instances of teenage binge drinking involve peer pressure or the need to conform to one’s immediate social surroundings and company just to feel accepted. In some schools and colleges, binge drinking parties may also double as initiation ceremonies where a student or bunch of students prove their binge drinking ‘prowess’ in order to be socially embraced by their peers.
Low self-esteem/ Need to reinforce ‘macho’ image: This is more rampant in the case of male students, where a group of school guys often compete to display their alcohol capacity and guzzle alcohol in order to prove their ‘manliness’. Such episodes start off as competitions, where the student who manages to consume the most alcohol is often viewed as a hero in his own right. This, more often than not, indirectly points to a false sense of bravado and an underlying need to feel respected and lauded by peers.
Teenage Binge Drinking Consequences
Hindered reasoning capacity:
A number of scientists believe teenage binge drinking can lead to ‘deficits’ that make it difficult for teens to adapt to certain life situations due to gradual structural and chemical changes in the frontal cortex of the brain. The frontal cortex is the region that controls reasoning, which is what enables us to dwell on the short and long term consequences of our actions.
Possible long term brain damage:
A 2005 study conducted by Dr. Peter M. Monti of Brown University, Providence, revealed that teenage binge drinking can even cause long term brain damage due to the fact that the teen brain in particular is susceptible to the damaging effects of alcohol. Binge drinking can affect brain activity in the long term and even trigger poor memory and hampered performance. If a teen continues to binge drink into adulthood, the damage inflicted to the brain cells may become too much to overcome.
Impact on organs:
There are instances where binge drinking in younger teens has given rise to elevated liver enzymes, which is a sign of slight liver damage.
Effect on hormones:
Binge drinking during a phase of rapid growth (i.e. teen years) can upset one’s hormonal balance, which is the key to the development of organs, bones, and muscles. Various studies conducted on animals have indicated that consuming excess alcohol during formative years may also affect the reproductive system in the long haul.
Social/ Psychological/ Other Consequences
Drunk driving: According to a CDC study, binge drinkers are 14 times more likely to get involved in alcohol-impaired driving than their non-binge drinking counterparts. Almost 1700 students die annually from binge drinking related deaths, a huge majority of which are automobile accidents.
Over the last decade, there have been thousands of teens involved in fatal car crashes every year. The three leading causes of death for teens are auto accidents, homicides, and suicides, and alcohol is a contributing factor in all three.
Sexual Behavior: Since teenage binge drinking is a natural precursor to extreme inebriation and hangovers, there aren’t many teens who are able to even recall the goings-on of the binge drinking episode. Binge drinking has been known to make one particularly vulnerable to indulging in both consensual and coercive sexual activity.
Risky Behavior: Binge drinking can also make a teenager particularly aggressive and make one partake in risky activity which can even border on the illegal or the criminal.
Our FREE E-bookThe Parents Guide to Alcohol and Drug Abuse and Prevention is aimed at those parents who wish to stay abreast of their children's alcohol and drug use. The guide shows you how to spot the signs of substance abuse and what to do if you suspect your child is abusing alcohol and/or drugs. Catching teen drug and alcohol abuse early, can save a lot of heartache later. Your teenager may not thank you now, but a few years down the road they'll be truly grateful you intervened and saved them from a young life of addiction.
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Deborah Morrow, M.S. Addiction Psychology, is the director of treatment programs for The Alcoholism Guide website. In her practice Deborah provides on-line coaching and support for those dependent on alcohol or who require other services such as relapse prevention or court mandated services. (Read More)