What Every Parent Should Know About College Binge Drinking
Binge drinking is one of the most serious problems on college campuses today. Parents should be talking to their teens about it long before they send them off to college.
What Is Binge Drinking?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, binge drinking, or heavy episodic drinking, is defined as a pattern of drinking that brings a person's blood alcohol concentration to 0.08 grams percent or above. This equates to:
- Five or more drinks in about 2 hours for males
- Four or more drinks in about 2 hours for females
It should be noted, however, that the volumes above are general. The size of the drink and body weight of the drinker are not taken into consideration in this definition. The assumption here is that drinking occurs within a short period of time (a few hours or less) and leads to alcohol intoxication.
Consequences of Binge Drinking
Alcohol poisoning—a severe and potentially fatal physical reaction to an alcohol overdose—is the most serious consequence of binge drinking. When a person drinks excessive amounts of alcohol within a short period of time, the brain is deprived of oxygen. In response to the overdose of alcohol and the lack of oxygen, the brain eventually shuts down the functions that regulate heart rate and breathing.
Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:
- Loss of consciousness
- Cold, clammy, pale, or bluish skin
- Slow or irregular breathing
Severe alcohol poisoning can lead to respiratory arrest, coma, and death.
If You Suspect Alcohol Poisoning
If you suspect alcohol poisoning, don’t worry that the person may be offended or embarrassed when they sober up. Your decision to help may save the person’s life.
- Call emergency medical services right away. If you are near a hospital and have not been drinking, take the person to the emergency room right away.
- Turn the person on their side to prevent choking in case of vomiting.
- Do not leave the person alone.
- Pay close attention to the person’s breathing. If it stops, administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). If you are alone, call for emergency medical services first, then start CPR.
Other Health and Social Consequences
Binge drinking can not only lead to alcohol poisoning, but also to drunk driving, accidents, poor school performance, risky sexual activity, property damage, illicit drug use, and even death.
Furthermore, studies suggest that heavy drinking in adolescence is strongly associated with heavy drinking in young adult life as well. Rather than “growing out” of binge drinking behavior, many young persons “grow into” a pattern of alcohol dependence or abuse.
What Can a Parent Do?
Be Aware of Risk Factors
Binge drinking is influenced by a number of social factors and marketing forces in the college community. Parents should be aware of these factors, which include:
- A large number of bars in the area
- Bars that promote drink specials, thereby encouraging binge drinking
- Lack of enforcement of underage serving laws
- Lack of college policy to control high-risk drinking
- Alcohol-sponsored programs on campus
- Lack of on-campus education about the dangers of high-risk drinking
- Lack of alcohol-free residence halls and activities
- Easy access to cheap alcohol
Establish Open Communication With Your Child
Ideally, you should begin talking to your children about the dangers of alcohol at a young age. Here are some tips that can help you establish more open communication:
- Don’t give a one-time speech. Find frequent opportunities to talk to your children about alcohol (such as when you see an alcohol ad).
- Encourage your children to express their concerns openly.
- Focus on the facts surrounding alcohol use and binge drinking.
- Explain why no one should never drink and drive, or get in the car with someone who has been drinking alcohol.
- Set a good example by not drinking excessively or frequently in front of your children, or driving after drinking.
- Teach your teen how to recognize alcohol abuse and deal with emergency drinking situations.
- If your child is in college, encourage them to live in an alcohol-free residence hall.
- Encourage your child’s participation in non-alcohol related activities.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Alcohol intoxication. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated February 1, 2016. Accessed May 31, 2016.
Alcohol use disorder. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated October 23, 2015. Accessed May 31, 2016.
Binge drinking. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/binge-drinking.htm. Updated October 16, 2015. Accessed May 31, 2016.
Binge drinking on college campuses. Center for Science in the Public Interest website. Available at: http://www.cspinet.org/booze/collfact1.htm. Accessed May 31, 2016.
McCarty CA, Ebel BE, Garrison MM, DiGiuseppe DL, Christakis DA, Rivara FP. Continuity of binge and harmful drinking from late adolescence to early adulthood. Pediatrics. 2004;114(3):714-719.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving parent handbook for talking with teens about alcohol. Mothers Against Drunk Driving website. Available at: http://support.madd.org/docs/madd_handbook_email.pdf. Accessed May 31, 2016.
Last reviewed May 2016 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 5/31/2016