College Binge Drinking: Talk About the Dangers with Your Teen

College student passed out on table because of college binge drinking.
College student passed out on table from binge drinking.

College is one of the most exciting times in a person’s life. For many students, it’s their first taste of freedom away from home. College represents an opportunity for people to discover who they are, what career they want to pursue and to find friends that last a lifetime. With all this excitement comes a lot of worry and stress for parents. It’s hard to let go. This is especially true for parents sending their first child to school. While it’s only natural for parents to worry about their children once they leave the nest, that isn’t to say these fears are unfounded.

Movies and television can make college seem like one big party, filled with images of raucous frat comedies and hijinks galore. It’s important to remember that these movies are far from the truth. These depictions fail to show short or long-term consequences or repercussions that can come from irresponsible actions, including binge drinking. Before your teen gets to school, it’s important to learn some sobering statistics. Once the dangers of college binge drinking are understood, parents and students will be more prepared to talk it out together.

College Binge Drinking is a Bigger Problem Than You Think

While everyone assumes that some partying is going to happen in college, the degree to which it occurs might shock you. Data shows that 57.2 percent of full-time college students between the ages of 18 and 22 drank alcohol in the last month. Even more, the same study found that 38 percent of college students have engaged in binge drinking during the past month.

The CDC defines binge drinking as when a person’s drinking raises their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 or higher. This translates to about five or more drinks in approximately two hours for a male, or four or more drinks in two hours for a female.

Research further shows that binge drinking is the most common among younger adults between the ages of 18 and 34-years-old. Of that age group, the group most likely to engage in binge drinking is people under 21. It is estimated that young people consume more than 90 percent of their alcohol through binge drinking.

When considering these facts, it becomes clear why binge drinking has become such a large problem on college campuses across the country. Sadly, underage drinking and alcohol abuse by college students contributes to more than 1,500 deaths a year.

In addition to the health risks associated with college binge drinking, there are also serious mental consequences associated with binge drinking that need to be considered. These consequences go beyond lowered inhibitions and poor decision making. Binge drinking could actually contribute to lower grades, and not just because someone skipped class. Underage alcohol use can also lead to falling behind in schoolwork and performing poorly on tests. But what is it that drives college students to these kinds of destructive behaviors?

Reasons Why College Students Binge Drink

The following are all examples of why college students may participate in binge drinking.

  • Peer pressure
  • Stress
  • Academic pressure
  • Difficulties in relationships
  • Insecurity
  • Lack of understanding of the dangers

College Binge Drinking Affects Grades as Much as Health

College student asleep on books with beer in hand because of binge drinking.

Pretty much everyone is aware that binge drinking is bad for you. The problem is that many students, and their parents, are unaware of just how bad college binge drinking actually is. The consequences of binge drinking extend far beyond a terrible morning; they can affect the rest of your life.

What students might not understand is how binge drinking can inhibit brain function long after the hangover has worn off. In addition to the direct physical effects of binge drinking, underage drinking can also lead to neurocognitive defects that can result in lower grades and academic performance. It has been established that the human brain is not fully developed until around age 25. That makes the college years a pivotal time in development as the brain nears the apex of its growth.

Research shows that underage students with a history of binge drinking suffer from a lack of a vital antioxidant called glutathione. What glutathione does is protect the brain from negative stresses in the body, such as free radicals. Without these antioxidants to keep free radicals at bay, the hippocampus is less protected, leading to further problems down the line. These problems can include an increased risk of depression and bipolar disorder.

While blackouts (periods of extended memory loss following binge drinking) pose a serious, and scary, problem, there’s a larger issue that can stay with students the rest of their lives. When college binge drinking results in a blackout, a student can lose more than their memories of one night, it can affect the development of memories in the future. Studies suggest that binge drinking can prevent the ability of students to memorize information in the future.

As you might imagine, this can pose a serious problem when it comes to studying, triggering a domino effect of negative consequence.

Binge Drinking Can Lead to Alcohol Use Disorder Later in Life

It’s clear that college binge drinking can lead to a host of problems for students. What many people fail to recognize are the long-term effects that binge drinking can have years down the line. Due to the accessibility and prevalence of alcohol on college campuses, students can inseparably connect binge drinking with social gatherings. This can lead to dependent behaviors that can grow into larger problems.

Studies demonstrate that underage drinking can, in effect, “wire” the brain for alcoholism. It has been shown that children who begin drinking before the age of 15, 40 percent are at higher risk of becoming alcoholics. This is compared to seven percent among those who wait until age 21 to begin drinking.

Parents Can Make a Difference in College Binge Drinking

It can be hard for parents to let go as they send their children off to college. However, just because the students are out of the house, doesn’t mean that parents are no longer an important influence on their lives. By staying involved in the lives of their children and discussing the dangers of college binge drinking, parents can serve as a strong deterrent and lead their students in the right direction.

Oftentimes, simply talking about binge drinking and its repercussions can go a long way to developing a smarter and more measured approach to alcohol in college students. Making underage drinking taboo or something teens are afraid to talk about for fear of punishment can have the opposite of the desired effect. Oftentimes, parents are inadvertently making alcohol more enticing or discouraging their children from discussing alcohol altogether.

The first few weeks at college can be critical in establishing good habits. These early weeks at the start of the fall semester are when many students will be introduced to parties. They will also be confronted by temptation in a setting where there is limited supervision. Because this can be an exciting, and overwhelming, time in the life of a student, it is imperative that parents take time to discuss the dangers of college binge drinking with their student frankly and openly.

How Parents Can Help Stop College Binge Drinking

Here are just a few ways in which parents can do their part to prevent college binge drinking.

  • Initiating conversations about the dangers of college binge drinking.
  • Being open-minded when listening to their children.
  • Remind children to feel comfortable approaching them with problems and concerns.
  • Promising not to punish their children for being honest about underage drinking.
  • Educating students on the potential consequences of binge drinking.
  • Reminding students that underage drinking is illegal and can have serious consequences later in life.

It all begins with parents starting the conversation about underage drinking with their children. Parents need to feel comfortable showing kids that they are still involved. When they do this, parents can establish an avenue that they can use if they find themselves in an uncomfortable or dangerous situation.

In the whirlwind of excitement that comes with college, parents can feel helpless as their children move away from home. Despite getting their first taste of real freedom, college students still look to their parents for guidance. By taking the time to talk about the dangers of underage drinking, parents can make a big difference when it comes to their children making the right decisions.