Binge drinking is one of the most serious problems on college campuses today. And 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:

  • 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 terms 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

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:

  • Vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Cold, clammy, pale, or bluish skin
  • Slow or irregular breathing (less than eight breaths per minute or 10 or more seconds between breaths)

If You Suspect Alcohol Poisoning

If you suspect alcohol poisoning, don’t worry that the person may be offended or embarrassed when he or she sobers up. Your decision to help may save the person’s life.

  • Call 911 immediately. If you are near a hospital, take the person to the emergency room right away.
  • Turn the person on his or her 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).

Other Health and Social Consequences

Binge drinking can not only lead to alcohol overdose (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

According to the American Medical Association, 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. The following tips from the American College of Emergency Physicians can help you establish more open communication:

  • Don’t give a one-time speech. Find frequent opportunities to talk to your kids 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 you 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 when drunk.
  • Teach your teen how to recognize alcohol abuse and deal with emergency drinking situations.
  • If your child is in college, encourage him or her to live in an alcohol-free residence hall.
  • Encourage your child’s participation in non-alcohol activities.