Teenage binge-drinking: Why it’s so dangerous for young people to overindulge in alcohol
One in every six adults participates in binge-drinking and 25% do so at least once a week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Yet it’s most common among young adults ages 18 to 24 — leading to emergency situations such as the one reported on Saturday at the University of Massachusetts. More than 30 college students were taken to the hospital after they participated in a TikTok-fueled binge-drinking trend.
As part of the trend, students prepare and drink “blackout rage gallons,” or “BORGs,” which consist of a mixture of alcohol, electrolytes, flavoring and water. As of Monday, “BORG” videos on TikTok had amassed 81.5 million views and counting.
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With over 3,900 people under 21 years old dying each year due to excessive alcohol consumption, binge-drinking is a very real danger for young people.
Dr. Eric Collins, a New York City-based addiction psychiatrist and chief medical officer at RecoveryEducation.com, said that while binge-drinking is dangerous for everyone, the behavioral effects can be more dangerous for young people.
“The brains of teens and young adults have not fully developed, making them more vulnerable to impulsive, emotionally driven behaviors that are the most common causes of alcohol-related injuries and death,” he told Fox News Digital in an email.
“Also, young people may not have developed significant tolerance to drinking, making them more vulnerable to alcohol’s toxic effects at any blood alcohol concentration,” he said.
What is binge-drinking?
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines binge-drinking as “a pattern of drinking alcohol that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08% — or 0.08 grams of alcohol per deciliter — or higher.”
For a female, this equates to consuming four or more drinks in about two hours; for a male, it would be five or more drinks.
Blood alcohol rises faster for young people in that same time frame (three drinks for girls and three to five drinks for boys).
More than 3,900 people under 21 years old die each year due to excessive alcohol consumption.
“A ‘drink’ is very specifically defined. Often, when individuals make a mixed drink, it qualifies as more than one drink if there is more than one shot of alcohol in it,” said Bruce Bassi, M.D., an addiction psychiatrist based in Jacksonville, Florida, in an interview with Fox News Digital.
Short-term effects of teen binge-drinking
Young people who binge-drink are more likely to have impaired judgment and indulge in risky behaviors, such as driving under the influence or engaging in unprotected sex, Dr. Bassi warned.
“Binge-drinking can cause blackouts, during which the person is conscious but unable to remember what happened during the episode,” he said.
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A potentially life-threatening consequence of binge-drinking is alcohol poisoning or alcohol overdose, which is when the body can’t work fast enough to filter the amount that is being consumed.
As a result, certain areas of the brain start to shut down, as explained on the NIH website.
Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include vomiting, mental confusion, passing out, seizures, difficulty breathing, slow heart rate and low body temperature.
Severe cases can lead to permanent brain damage or even death.
Cognitive decline, disease are possible long-term effects
Because the teenage brain is still developing, Dr. Bassi said binge-drinking can lead to long-term cognitive development.
“Exposure to high levels of alcohol during this time can disrupt the development of the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for decision-making, impulse control and emotional regulation,” he explained.
“The later a young person waits to drink, the lower the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder.”
Mental issues such as depression, anxiety, attention deficits and insomnia can also occur among binge-drinking teens, Bassi added.
Long-term physical health is also impacted.
Just a single binge-drinking session can weaken the immune system. Over time, regular alcohol misuse can lead to liver damage as well as multiple types of cancer, per the NIH.
Negative social effects are also possible.
“Binge drinking can lead to decreased academic performance, strained relationships with family and friends and legal problems,” said Dr. Bassi.
And the pattern of behavior can extend into adulthood. Dr. Collins warned that the effects of repeated binge-drinking during adolescence can make the brain more vulnerable to developing an alcohol use disorder later in life.
Quick treatment, long-term support are key
If a young person has engaged in potentially dangerous binge-drinking, Dr. Bassi recommends a trip to the emergency room to ensure safe detoxification from alcohol.
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“In the ER, treatment for binge-drinking may involve addressing any immediate medical concerns, such as alcohol poisoning or injuries sustained during the episode,” he said.
“The individual may be given fluids and electrolytes to prevent dehydration and treated for any injuries or medical conditions.”
Once the body has processed the alcohol and the person is out of imminent danger, people can then consider therapy or alcohol treatment programs.
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“More intensive treatment options may include medication-assisted treatment, residential treatment programs or outpatient treatment programs,” said Dr. Bassi.
Overall, experts agree that abstaining from underage drinking is the best protection against the serious risks of binge-drinking.
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“The later a young person waits to drink, the lower the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder,” said Dr. Collins.