But as the public becomes more aware of the health risks of binge drinking, parents and educators are becoming more concerned about these activities. Drinking games encourage young people to consume large quantities of alcohol within a short period of time, putting them at risk of alcohol poisoning. Other risks of binge drinking include:
- Accidental injuries (falls, burns, drowning, etc.)
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Unsafe sex
- Sexual assault
Over the long-term, heavy drinking can affect a teen’s life on every level, destroying his health, friendships, schoolwork and personal goals.
Binge drinking also increases the risk that a teenager will develop a problem with alcohol dependence and addiction. If your teen is participating in drinking competitions, it’s important to take a close look at how this practice might affect his future.
Why Are Drinking Games So Dangerous?
Imagine a living room or basement packed with noisy, unsupervised teenagers. The alcohol’s flowing, the music is loud, and the lights are dim. By the time the partiers gather to play a drinking game, most of them have consumed at least one or two drinks and are feeling a little buzzed. Some of them are more than a little drunk, and a few are already quite intoxicated. All of these teens are at a stage in their neurological development where their emotions and physical urges outweigh their judgment and decision-making faculties. Peer pressure rules, especially when parents are out of town.
The competitive nature of drinking games practically guarantees that a teenager will consume more alcohol than his or her body is able to handle. According to the Herald-Dispatch of Huntington, West Virginia, a game called “21″ requires the player to consume 21 shots of alcohol on his or her 21st birthday. The newspaper notes that according to Associated Press reports, 11 individuals in a recent study died of alcohol poisoning on their 21st birthdays.
The goal of most games is to exceed the limits of moderate alcohol consumption without vomiting or passing out. Movie-based games like the “Wolf of Wall Street” game require players to consume an alcoholic beverage every time an actor says an obscenity. The winner of these games continues to ingest alcohol until the other players have given up, gotten sick or lost consciousness.
Some games require the players to take increasingly dangerous risks with alcohol. In an era when drunken activities are often recorded and broadcast on social media networks, these games have become a popular source of entertainment — as well as a source of humiliation and social stigmatization — on the Internet. Teens these days can never be sure whether the results of a drinking game will be broadcast online for family, teachers, friends, college representatives and potential employers to see.
A dangerous new drinking game called “NekNomination” has been implicated in the deaths of several young people around the world.
ABC News that the game, which started in Australia, has become a global sensation, with young people posting the proof of drunken dares on sites like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. NekNomination requires the player to perform a high-risk activity while drinking, then post the results online and nominate another young person to do something equally dangerous. Players have recorded themselves speed-drinking, consuming toxic concoctions of alcohol and other substances, disrobing in public, and driving while drunk.
Intoxicated teens rarely consider the consequences of dangerous behavior. Parents, teachers, and therapists must intervene to provide education and preventive services to protect young people against high-risk drinking games.
Health Risks of Binge Drinking
Binge drinking is commonly defined as the consumption of five or more drinks on one occasion. But according to JAMA Pediatrics, many teenagers meet or even exceed this threshold. The Journal reports that between 2005 and 2011, over 20 percent of 12th graders admitted to consuming five or more drinks in one drinking episode. Nearly 11 percent reported having 10 or more drinks in one episode, while almost 6 percent reported having 15 or more drinks in a single occasion.
The most serious risk of binge drinking is alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning occurs when the amount of ethanol in a teenager’s system exceeds his body’s ability to metabolize the chemical.
The life-threatening complications of alcohol poisoning include:
- Choking and gagging
- Asphyxiation from inhaling vomit
- Low body temperature
- Brain damage
According to the Mayo Clinic, it takes about 60 minutes for the alcohol in one beverage (12 oz of beer or 1.5 oz of hard liquor) to be processed by the liver. During a drinking game, a teenager might consume 10 or more drinks in less than an hour. By the time a teenager realizes that he’s intoxicated or passes out, he may have consumed far more alcohol than his system can handle.
Teenagers are still at a vulnerable stage in their neurological development. Regular binge drinking can damage a developing brain, causing learning problems, memory loss, and psychomotor impairment.
Additional health risks of long-term binge drinking include:
- Liver disease
- Heart disease
- Certain types of cancer (especially of the throat, stomach and breasts)
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Alcohol addiction
- Suicide attempts
Binge drinking affects the teenage psyche as well as the body. Depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation are common among teenagers who drink heavily. According to the International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, suicide consistently ranks as one of the leading causes of death among young people between the ages of 15 and 34, and the rate of suicide in this age group has increased dramatically since the 1950s. The Journal attributes much of this increase to an increase in alcohol abuse among adolescents.
At a time when young people are preparing to go to college, earn sports scholarships or launch their careers, heavy alcohol consumption can destroy their hopes for the future.
Drinking Games and Bullying
Ironically, teens who can’t keep up in drinking games may suffer just as much as their more “successful” peers. Young people who throw up, lose consciousness, or simply refuse to keep drinking are often the subject of teasing and bullying. Cyber-bullying—or the use of cellphones or the Internet to abuse, harass and humiliate others—has become an increasingly common practice among teenagers, often with tragic results. Teens who refuse to accept drinking dares may be harassed publicly through social media sites, text messages and emails for “chickening out.”
Teenagers who participate in games in order to gain acceptance from their peers may end up embarrassing themselves by getting sick, fainting, undressing or becoming the victims of a sexual assault.
The Journal of Studies on Alcohol describes an incident in which a female college student was raped after getting drunk while playing “Quarters,” a popular drinking game that involves bouncing coins into a beer cup or drinking glass. The young victims of sexual assault often become the target of public harassment and cyber-bullying.
A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health revealed that adolescents who are the victims of cyber-bullying are more likely to suffer from depression, substance abuse and Internet addiction. These behavioral problems increase the risk that a teenager will become addicted to alcohol or drugs as a way to cope with low self-esteem.
Keeping Teens Safe
Unfortunately, there is no way to monitor a teenager’s behavior 24 hours a day. But there’s a lot that parents can do to help prevent the tragic consequences of drinking games. Here are a few of the ways you can reduce the risks of binge drinking:
- Talk with your teens about the risks of binge drinking and alcohol poisoning. Never assume that your kids know what “safe” drinking is; many of them are unaware of the dangers of extreme alcohol intoxication.
- Plan sober activities at home. Encourage your teenager to have friends over for parties, meals, or games that don’t involve alcohol or drugs. Although you don’t have to hover over the event, you or another adult should always be present to reduce the risk of alcohol consumption or drinking games.
- Seek support from addiction specialists and educators. You don’t have to face the threat of underage drinking alone. Talk with counselors, therapists or teachers to get information and ideas on how to prevent binge drinking in your community.
- Learn to identify the signs of alcohol abuse. If your teen is staying out late, sleeping too much, gaining weight, or getting sick more frequently than usual, he may have a problem with binge drinking. A decline in academic performance and a loss of interest in hobbies or sober friends may also be warning signs of alcohol addiction.
- Reinforce your teen’s self-esteem. Let your teen know that you love and value him by communicating your feelings openly. Support his interests and attend his sports events or school activities whenever possible. Help him build a strong sense of self-worth that doesn’t depend on the opinions of others.
Help for Teens With Alcohol Addiction
Parents and teens often assume alcoholism is a disease that only affects adults, but drinkers of any age can become chemically dependent on alcohol. If your teenager is drinking heavily, it’s never too early to seek help. The alcohol rehab programs at Muir Wood are tailored to the needs of boys ages 12 to 17. At our exclusive residential facility in Northern California, we provide intensive, gender-specific services that allow your son to focus exclusively on recovery.
If a teenager in your life needs help making the transition from boyhood to maturity, we’re here to provide that support. Call us anytime to learn more about our innovative recovery services.