Binge Drinking and Young Adults
The adolescent brain is a work in progress. The frontal lobe doesn’t fully develop until the mid-20s, yet that’s where the ability to reason, weigh outcomes, and control impulses lies not yet fully developed. In contrast, the part of the adolescent brain that seeks pleasure and reward is fairly well-developed early on. Long before anyone knew about frontal lobes, parents have worried about adolescents making poor decisions.
Add alcohol and you have teens who are seeking pleasure but who aren’t equipped to make fully-considered decisions, such as making the choice to binge drink.
What is Binge Drinking?
What it used to be:
Going on a bender, or binge drinking, used to refer to drinking heavily over several days with little food or sleep.
What it is now:
Teens and young adults have redefined it to mean drinking heavily over a short period of time, usually in one sitting.
How is it defined?
- For males, binge drinking is defined as 5 or more drinks in one sitting.
- For females, it’s 4 or more.
- Heavy binge drinking is defined as 3 or more episodes in a 2-week period.
Keep in mind that these teens aren’t sitting around sipping their drinks. They’re gulping them. And the average binge drinker consumes a lot more than the 4 or 5 drinks mentioned above.
Why Do Young People Binge Drink?
- They think it will make them feel good
- They want to feel older
- Peer pressure
Again, keep in mind, that in the adolescent brain – in the adolescent world – these are all valid reasons.
Is it Really That Big of a Problem?
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC):
- 20 percent of high school girls engage in binge drinking.
- The prevalence of binge drinking among males is twice what it is among females.
- 90 percent of the alcohol consumed by high school students and young adults under the age of 21 is consumed by binge drinking.
- Binge drinking is more common in households with incomes of $75,000 or more than among those with lower incomes.
Blackout drinking occurs when a teen drinks heavily, continues to function without loss of consciousness, but the next day has no memory of what happened. Because of the alcohol, the hippocampus part of the brain responsible for memory and learning, stopped encoding new memories during that blackout time.
If you hit your head hard enough to cause memory loss, you’d call it an injury and have it checked out by a doctor. Yet teens often see it as something to joke about.
Other Risks Associated with Binge Drinking
- Impaired judgment resulting in undue risk-taking
- Greater risk of STDs or an unplanned pregnancy
- High risk for alcoholism
- Unintentional injuries resulting from falls, car crashes and even drowning
- Liver disease or neurological damage
- Intentional injuries resulting from sexual assault or domestic violence
- Alcohol poisoning
Does Binge Drinking Lead to Alcoholism?
In a study from the Midwest Alcoholism Research Center, the study group of 18- to 22-year old binge drinkers who started drinking early in life exhibited the same poor decision-making skills as those of chronic alcoholics.
Dr. Greg Teas, an addiction specialist, stated in an article for an ABC affiliate in Chicago, that “extreme drinking even just a couple times a week could actually tip someone into addiction.”
What can be done?
- Know where your children are going and who they’re going to be with. Get to know their friends. Friends, during adolescence, have a greater influence on behavior than parents.
- Talk openly about teen drinking and binge drinking. Explain the risks, but keep it brief. Remember, you’re talking to a teenager.
- Set an example of responsible alcohol use.
Know When to Ask for Help
Young adults that binge drink on a regular basis are at a high risk for alcoholism and often already exhibit traits of the disease. In those cases, an inpatient treatment center can provide the safe, supportive and secure surroundings necessary for a successful recovery outcome.
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