Preventing teens from binge drinking can be a difficult task. The pressures of underage drinking from peers can push adolescents to do things they would not, and when drunk, the risks of binge drinking are more likely. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or more. This usually happens when men have five or more drinks, and when women have four or more drinks within a two-hour time period.¹
The dangers of binge drinking can lead to tragedy. Besides alcohol poisoning, which can be fatal, here are some other risks your teens can run into when drinking too much:
- Injuries (from car crashes, falls, and fire)
- Intentional injuries (like gun violence, sexual assault, and domestic violence)
- Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
- Unplanned pregnancy (and subsequently children possibly born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum)
- Liver disease
- Brain damage
- Sexual dysfunction
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- High blood pressure, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases
- Unintended weight gain
So what can be done about preventing binge drinking in adolescents? There is no one answer to this question, but there are the top ten tactics that parents and caregivers can practice to keep the risk down.
1. Get Them Involved in Activities
One of the big reasons teens drink and do drugs is out of boredom. By stimulating your children through sports, academic extracurricular activities and other physical activity, you keep them engaged in their environment. They will be less likely to seek out bad behaviors to experience their world. Interacting with people and the outdoors sober is the biggest gift you can give your teen, especially if addiction runs in your family. Showing them how lovely and entertaining the world can be will give them the tools to cope later.
2. Keep an Open Line of Communication
An important step to ensuring your kids don’t binge drink (or drink at all) is to open up a constant line of communication. They should know that they can come to you for their needs. Although you are a parent and offering “judgment-free” advice isn’t likely – it’s crucial that your kids understand that no matter what they have to say, you will hear them out. Now it’s easier than ever to communicate with our children with cell phones and computers. While your child is not in the home, you can keep the communication going. Texting and email also allow your child to contact you in a way that’s not face-to-face if the topic of conversation is embarrassing or difficult for them to discuss.
3. Be An Active Part of Their Lives
A lot of drug and alcohol prevention is just trying to be a good parent. Being a good parent doesn’t mean supervising your teen’s every movement, but it does mean being around for the important parts. This communicates to them that they come to you during the best of times and the worst: they can trust you to be there for them when they need you. This strategy is a bit different from how some of our parents raised us. It was less common, in the past, to see parents at extracurricular activities. With alcohol and drug abuse among teens on the rise, however, it takes extra parenting to keep kids safe.
4. Give Them Reasons to Say “No” to Binge Drinking
This is an extremely important tactic to keep teens from binge drinking. Helping adolescents form goals is imperative to their future in all things, not only in avoiding drugs and alcohol. By creating concrete goals, a teenager has something to lose if they were to drink underage and suffer consequences for it. Creating goals for your child, however, does not have the same effects. Sit down with your children and discuss goals. Tell them your goals and together, explore what your teen’s goals are. They may be to make the high school basketball team, get a part in the school play, or get into a favorite college. Whatever it is, encourage them to achieve and remind them of the risk they take by participating in illicit activities. The idea of not attaining their goals may be enough to deter them from underage drinking.
5. Don’t Keep Alcohol In the House
This is easier said than done, but if you are worried your teen may be at risk of binge drinking, remove all alcohol from the home. Sure, you may have a party or friends over where alcohol is consumed, but be sure you don’t get too inebriated as to not notice if some alcohol goes missing. Even though you may have guests, your first role is not to host, but to parent. It’s far more important to keep your teen safe from underage moderate or binge drinking.
6. Know Your Child’s Friends
This should be an easy thing to do, but with teens’ schedules being busy and with the use of cellphones, it can be difficult to keep track of your child’s friends. Mingle with other parents and your teen’s friends at school functions. It will help put a face with a name, and gives you a chance to meet other parents. Together, you and other parents can work together to keep teens safe from underage binge drinking. Knowing your teen’s friends can also help you if your adolescent begins hanging around with new people. Changes in friends can indicate a drug or alcohol problem.
7. Know the Legal Consequences of Your Teen Binge Drinking
According to Washington State law, “Persons under the age of 21 may not acquire, possess, or consume alcohol. Nor may other persons furnish alcohol to anyone under 21 or permit underage consumption on premises within their control. Penalty: Maximum $500 fine, 2 months imprisonment, or both.² By breaking the law and underage drinking, teens run a huge risk to their reputation and can ruin chances at playing school sports and attending good colleges.
8. Find Local Organizations That Encourage Safe Fun For Teens
There are plenty of activities your teen can do that doesn’t involve alcohol or drugs. If your family is involved in church, see if they have a youth group. If hiking and the outdoors are of a bigger interest to you and your teen, try to find excursion groups that guide teens on outdoor activities. By getting teens involved with peer groups that encourage them to engage in healthy, age appropriate activities, they can enjoy themselves without being pressured into underage or binge drinking.
9. Be a Great Example for Your Adolescent
It seems easier said than done, but being a good example for your teen is one of the best, long-term tactics to prevent binge drinking and making other poor life choices. It’s easy to tell a teen what to do, but it’s much harder to convince them to do something that you are incapable of practicing yourself. Work hard to think through how your actions may affect your teen. It’s crucial that you don’t lose their respect or parenting will become much more difficult for you.
10. Spend Time Discussing Underage Drinking
Honesty should be practiced daily when it comes to dealing with your teen. Take the time to discuss underage drinking with your adolescents. Tell them what they need to be aware of and how to decline a drink when their friends want them to join in. This conversation can be done in a car ride, on a walk or at the dinner table. Don’t be afraid to broach the subject even when your teen doesn’t seem interested. To prevent consequences that can occur from binge drinking, it’s important to prevent binge drinking in the first place. Knowledge is power, so be sure to give teens the tools they need to say “no” to underage drinking.
If your teen still chooses to binge drink, you do have options. Like alcoholism and drug use, if you find that your child is acting different, hanging out with new friends and letting their school work suffer, it may be time to get help. Many alcohol treatment centers can offer therapies for teen addiction. The longer addiction is left to take hold of an adolescent, the more dangerous it becomes. The teen brain suffers much more chemical changes due to addiction than an adult brain, and drug or alcohol use can change the brain forever. Not sure where to start? Learn about our intervention services.
¹National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2017). Retrieved from: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/
²University of Puget Sound. (2017). Washington State Laws on Alcohol Consumption. Retrieved from: https://www.pugetsound.edu/student-life/counseling-health-and-wellness/substance-abuse-prevention/washington-state-laws-on-alcoh/