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, throw up, pass out, revive themselves, then reach for more booze. For one or two of these otherwise healthy kids, the next drinking binge could end in death.
Bingeing means drinking to get drunk—the point at which the drinker is risking health or behavioral problems as a consequence of drinking. For men, that means having five or more drinks in quick succession. Women have a lower tolerance for alcohol, so their binges are defined as four or more drinks in a row.
Though overall alcohol use among young people has decreased in recent years, the number of binge drinkers remains high. One study by the American Medical Association (AMA) found that 20 percent of 18- to 30-year-olds are binge drinkers. Among those who binge, 19 percent said they binge "frequently," and 7 percent binge every time they drink alcohol.
Binge drinkers are most likely found on college campuses, where many students consider a big game or fraternity party an excuse to drink all weekend, the AMA says.
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, bingeing involves other dangerous or negative consequences, including:
Accidents. Alcohol impairs sensory perceptions, judgment and reaction time. Of young people who drink, 20 percent say they sometimes drive drunk.
Date rape. Alcohol is a factor in up to two-thirds of 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. Chronic alcohol use can damage the liver and heart and increase the risk of some cancers.
Bad grades. Students who drink the most have the worst grades, according to one study at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.
The AMA advises educating young people about the risks of binge drinking and other substance abuse. Here are other ways you can help your youngster 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 unconsciously promoting the idea that drinking to excess is okay?
Work with the youngster's college. Encourage initiatives 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 AMA says. The earlier you start your prevention efforts, the better.
© 2014 Main Line Health