National Consumers League


NCL Health Issues

Teens and binge drinking

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Study after study has shown that parents have the most influence over their teen’s decision to drink. We've assembled the basic facts about alcohol and about drinking, drinking too much, and binge drinking.


What are the short and long term effects of alcohol use and abuse?
Short Term: When a person consumes alcohol, it is absorbed by the stomach, enters the bloodstream, and is distributed throughout the body. Some short term effects are dizziness, talkativeness, slurred speech, nausea, and vomiting. Even a small amount of alcohol can significantly impair judgment and coordination. If a person drinks a lot of alcohol in one day, he or she may experience a hangover the next day, indicated by headaches, nausea, thirst, and dizziness.

Long Term: Long term heavy use of alcohol can lead to addiction known as alcoholism. Combined with poor nutrition and lack of exercise, excessive alcohol use can eventually lead to brain and liver damage. If pregnant women drink excessively, their child may be born with a condition known as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. In some cases, these children may suffer from mental retardation and other disorders.

What is drinking too much?
Alcohol has different effects on different people, and as such, it is impossible to give a minimum numerical value as to how much alcohol is “too much.” However, when a person begins to exhibit behaviors such as slurred speech, impaired judgment, inability to walk a straight line, or vomiting, they have likely drunk too much.

What is binge drinking?
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), binge drinking is a drinking pattern in which a persons’ blood alcohol concentration (BAC) reaches .08% or higher. In order to reach .08%, a man must typically drink five standard drinks in a row in a short period of time and a woman must drink four standard drinks in a row in a short period of time. Consumption of alchohol at this pace can lead to acute alcohol poisoning.

Is acute alcohol poisoning the only real danger of binge drinking?
No. While these incidents often make the news, there are an estimated 1,100 alcohol-related traffic deaths and 300 alcohol-related fatal injuries among college students each year.

How big a problem is drunk driving?
In 2006, 17,602 people died in drunk driving accidents. That number represents 41 percent of all traffic-related fatalities.

Does binge drinking have any secondhand effects?
Yes. According to a 1999 Harvard survey in which binge drinkers were interviewed:

* 23% had experienced an unwanted sexual advance
* 11% had been pushed, hit or assaulted
* 36% had been insulted or humiliated
* 16% had property damaged
* 71% had sleep or study interrupted

I just drink beer and not hard liquor. Is that what is meant by responsible drinking?
No. As mentioned above, one 12-ounce beer and one shot of 80-proof hard liquor contain the same amount of alcohol. Therefore, a person will consume the same amount of alcohol when drinking a beer as he or she will drinking a shot of hard liquor. “Responsible drinking” is often referred to as “drinking in moderation.” That means that for men, no more than two drinks per day, and for women, no more than one drink per day.

I found empty bottles in my son’s bedroom. Should I ignore it and hope he doesn’t drink again? No. Parents should take an active approach. Talk to children about the dangers of alcohol. Studies have shown that kids who begin drinking before they turn 15 are 5 times more likely to develop alcohol problems than those who begin drinking at 21.

My roommate drinks so much on weekends that she passes out. Is that binge drinking? Yes. One of the effects of binge drinking is passing out. If this happens, you should get her medical help right away because she could be suffering from alcohol poisoning. Talk to your roommate about the dangers of binge drinking, including sexual assault and even death, and help direct her to campus counselors or professionals on campus who are there to help with such concerns.

How common is binge drinking on college campuses?
According to the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study, 51% of college men and 40% of women qualify as binge drinkers.

Is binge drinking mainly a problem on college campuses?
No. In fact, 70% of binge drinking episodes involve people over the age of 25.

Does binge drinking have the same effects on women as it does on men? No. Women’s bodies process alcohol differently than men’s. Since women have lower levels of water in the body, they achieve higher blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels than men even when they drink the same amount of alcohol. Because of this, women are at a higher risk for alcohol-related medical issues. In fact, men are two times more likely to binge drink than women.

If a college student habitually engages in excessive or binge drinking and wants to get help, where should she or he look? The National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Referral Routing Service provides a toll-free telephone number, 1-800-662-HELP (1-800-662-4357) where you can speak directly to an expert concerning substance abuse treatment, request printed material on alcohol or other drugs, or obtain substance abuse treatment referral information. You can also get help from your own health professional and often from friends and family.

Which organizations provide information about alcohol abuse?

Here are some links to various organization websites that provide information on alcohol abuse:
American Medical Association Office of Alcohol & Other Drug Abuse
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Century Council
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
The Cool Spot