For millions of young adults in this country, the weekend will pass in an alcoholic blur. They'll toss down drink after drink as fast as they can. Then they'll throw up, pass out, revive themselves—and reach for more booze. For one or two of these otherwise healthy kids, the next drinking binge could end in death.
Binge drinking is drinking to get drunk—the point at which drinking can lead to health or behavioral problems. For men, that means having 5 or more drinks, one right after the other. Women have a lower tolerance for alcohol. So their binges are defined as 4 or more drinks in a row.
Overall alcohol use among young people has decreased in recent years. But the number of binge drinkers remains high.
By the time they're college seniors, most students moderate their drinking. But by then, many already have been hurt by their bouts of heavy drinking.
Besides the risk of death from overdose, binge drinking involves other dangerous or negative consequences, including:
Accidents. Alcohol impairs sensory perceptions, judgment, and reaction time.
Date rape. Alcohol can be a significant factor in sexual assaults on students.
Unprotected sex. Heavy drinkers are at greater risk for AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. They also have a greater chance of pregnancy.
Violence. Young people who drink are more likely than others to be victims of violent crime, including rape, aggravated assault, and robbery.
Alcoholism. Some college students who abuse alcohol will become alcoholics. Long-term (chronic) alcohol use can damage the liver and heart. It can also increase the risk of some cancers.
Bad grades. Students who drink typically get less restorative sleep. This results in poor focus and attention, and lower grades.
Here are ways you can help your child avoid binge drinking:
Make your attitudes clear. Discuss your expectations for your child's college lifestyle and academic performance.
Show interest. Ask about grades, classes, friendships, and other healthy aspects of campus life. Let your child know these things are important.
Check your own behavior. Are you promoting the idea that drinking to excess is OK, without realizing it?
Work with your child's college. Encourage things such as substance-free dorms and social events. Ask the administration to encourage bar owners not to offer happy hours and other promotions.
Don't give up. What parents say and do really can make a difference. The earlier you start your prevention efforts, the better.