For millions of young adults in this country, the weekend will pass in an alcoholic blur. They'll toss down drink after drink as fast as they can. Then they'll throw up, pass out, revive themselves—and reach for more booze. For 1 or 2 of these otherwise healthy kids, the next drinking binge could end in death.
Binge drinking is drinking to get drunk—the point at which drinking can lead to health or behavioral problems. For men, that means having 5 or more drinks, 1 right after the other. Women have a lower tolerance for alcohol. So their binges are defined as 4 or more drinks in a row.
Overall alcohol use among young people has decreased in recent years. But the number of binge drinkers remains high.
By the time they're college seniors, most students moderate their drinking. But by then, many already have been hurt by their bouts of heavy drinking.
Besides the risk of death from overdose, binge drinking involves other dangerous or negative consequences, including:
Accidents. Alcohol impairs sensory perceptions, judgment, and reaction time.
Date rape. Alcohol can be a significant factor in sexual assaults.
Unprotected sex. Heavy drinkers are at greater risk for AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). They also have a greater chance of unintended pregnancy and poor pregnancy outcomes, including miscarriage and stillbirth.
Violence. Young people who drink are more likely than others to be victims of violent crime, including rape, aggravated assault, and robbery.
Alcoholism. Some college students who abuse alcohol will become alcoholics. Long-term (chronic) alcohol use can damage the liver and heart. It can also increase the risk of certain cancers.
Bad grades. Students who drink typically get less restorative sleep. This results in poor focus and attention, and lower grades.
Unintentional injuries. Binge drinking is linked to car crashes, falls, burns, and alcohol poisoning.
Memory and learning problems. College students who binge drink report problems with falling behind or missing classes, trouble concentrating, poor performance on exams, and getting lower grades.
Here are ways you can help your child stay away from binge drinking:
Make your attitudes clear. Discuss your expectations for your child's college lifestyle and academic performance.
Show interest. Ask about grades, classes, friendships, social activities, and other healthy aspects of campus life. Let your child know these things are important.
Check your own behavior. Are you promoting the idea that drinking to excess is OK, without realizing it?
Work with your child's college. Encourage things such as substance-free dorms and social events. Ask the administration to encourage bar owners not to offer happy hours and other promotions.
Start young and don't give up. What parents say and do really can make a difference. The earlier you start your prevention efforts, the better. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests parents start teaching their children about alcohol as early as age 9. This includes being an appropriate role model about alcohol use.