How to Talk to Your College-age Kid About Binge Drinking

Binge drinking on college campuses is a serious health threat to students. Young people headed to school for the first (or fourth) time need the truth from their parents and other trusted adults about the dangers of binge drinking. And the truth is, binge drinking kills more than 1,000 college students each year in the United States.1

Having this conversation can be difficult when young people, eager to fit in with their peers, are more concerned about making friends and having fun than accepting the dangerous realities of college binge drinking. Keeping the lines of communication open and finding appropriate ways to drive the point home are important steps in the right direction.

Binge Drinking Affects the Developing Brain

The prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain responsible for controlling impulses, planning and setting priorities — doesn’t fully mature until a person is in his or her mid-to-late 20s.2 A recent study led by Lindsey Squeglia, assistant professor at the Center for Drug and Alcohol Programs at the University of South Carolina, found a significant correlation between the amounts of alcohol consumed from middle school through adulthood and the increased loss of gray matter and decreased development of white matter in the brain. “They are destroying, or at least causing to shrink … the very areas of the brain they need to control themselves,” said Robert Freedman, editor of the American Journal of Psychiatry and University of Colorado chair of Psychiatry.3 The temptation to binge drink or drink too much may actually be harder to control than your son or daughter realizes.

Serious Consequences Abound

Along with death and lack of brain development, drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time can result in other serious consequences. The following statistics from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism help drive home the dangers of binge drinking:

  • 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor-vehicle crashes
  • 696,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking
  • 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 report experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape
  • 1 in 4 college students report academic consequences from drinking, including missing class, falling behind in class, doing poorly on exams or papers and receiving lower grades overall
  • 20 percent of college students meet the criteria for an alcohol use disorder (AUD)
  • Other consequences include suicide attempts, health problems, injuries, unsafe sex, driving under the influence of alcohol, vandalism, property damage and involvement with the police.1

Although stronger efforts are being made to curb underage and binge drinking on college campuses, parents can’t always trust schools to provide proper surveillance and protection. Fake identification, easy access to cheap alcohol and those over 21 who are willing to provide for underage drinkers are also part of the problem.

Early Intervention Helps

Students seem to be the most vulnerable to binge drinking during the first six weeks of the school year. Campus parties, fraternity and sorority initiations and club events all dramatically increase the pressure to drink. The continuing influence of parents during those first weeks of school appears to be one of the biggest deterrents to underage and binge drinking.

Along with staying involved, the NIAAA recommends parents do the following:

  • Talk with students about the dangers of harmful and underage drinking and how alcohol use can lead to date rape, violence and academic failure.
  • Reach out periodically and keep the lines of communication open.
  • Stay alert for possible alcohol-related problems.
  • Remind students to feel free to reach out and share information about their daily activities — and to ask for help if needed.
  • Learn about the school’s alcohol prevention and emergency intervention efforts.
  • Make sure students know signs of alcohol overdose or an alcohol-related problem and how to help.4

Know the Signs of Binge Drinking

Knowing the signs of an alcohol problem in your son or daughter is an important part of keeping them safe. The NIAAA defines binge drinking as a pattern of heavy drinking in which an individual’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) reaches .08 grams’ percent alcohol or above. This generally means five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women over the course of two hours.5

Other signs your college student may be binge drinking include:

  • Risk-taking behaviors — this may include driving under the influence, having unprotected sex or getting into fights
  • Drinking at the same time each week — binge drinkers may not drink every day, but they always drink on the same day, like every Friday or every Saturday
  • An inability to stick to limits — binge drinkers may say they are only going to have one beer but have many more
  • Loss of consciousness — Binge drinkers drink so much alcohol over a short period of time they often black out and cannot remember where they were
  • Preoccupation with alcohol and neglecting everything else
  • Friends and loved ones who worry about them and know they need help6

Finding Help for College Binge Drinking

Talbott Recovery offers specialized treatment for young adults with alcohol-related issues. If you or your child struggles with alcohol abuse, we are here to help. Call us at 678-251-3189. Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day to answer your questions about available treatment options.

By Patti Richards

1College Drinking.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, December 2015, Accessed August 9, 2017.
2The Teen Brain: 6 Things to Know.” National Institute of Mental Health, Accessed August 10, 2017.
3 Herper, Matthew. “Teenage Binge Drinking May Alter Brain Development.” Forbes, May 18, 2015, Accessed August 10, 2017.
4Fall Semester—A Time for Parents to Discuss the Risks of College Drinking.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, October 2016, Accessed August 10, 2017.
5 “Binge Drinking Signs, Effects, And Help.”, March 14, 2016, Accessed August 10, 2017.
6 Corbett, Holly C. “Are you a binge drinker? 6 signs you’re overdoing it-and what to do about it.” Men’s Fitness, May 8, 2017, Accessed August 10, 2017.

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