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Teen Binge Drinking

Experts call underage and binge drinking a public health crisis in America, as alcohol is the most popular drug teens abuse. For some, binge drinking is a sign of a teen alcohol addiction. If you’ve caught your teen binge drinking, it’s time to intervene.

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4 min read

Dangers of Binge Drinking

Binge drinking, or drinking a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time, is a pervasive trend with teenagers and college students. It’s a fact that teen alcohol abuse is pervasive, and it leads to thousands of teen deaths each year in the U.S.

A standard drink — 12 oz. of beer, 5 oz. of wine or 1.5 oz. of liquor — contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol. Binge drinking constitutes consuming five or more standard drinks within a matter of hours, often leading to drunkenness, “browning out” or blacking out.

Teenage alcohol abuse statistics are staggering. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 4,500 people under the age of 21 die each year from alcohol-related deaths. Of these:

  • Nearly 1,600 deaths are in motor vehicle crashes
  • Nearly 1,300 deaths are homicides
  • Nearly 250 deaths are from alcohol poisoning, falls, burns and drowning
  • Nearly 500 deaths are from suicide

Many of the binge drinkers who don’t experience a fatal accident while drunk end up injuring others.

In 2011, about 188,000 people under the legal drinking age visited a hospital or emergency room for alcohol-related injuries.

Drinking alcohol also puts kids at risk for other unfortunate consequences of underage drinking, such as:

  • Academic trouble
  • Arrest, jail time and other legal consequences
  • Health issues, including the risk of alcohol poisoning
  • Impaired judgement, which can lead to risky sexual behavior or even sexual assault
  • Altered brain development
  • Addiction


Facts about Binge Drinking

The statistics prove underage and binge drinking is a clear problem in America. Even though the legal drinking age nationwide is 21, about 35% of teens have had their first drink by age 15 and about 65% have had their first drink by age 18.

Alcohol is also the most popular drug with adolescents:

  • 9.7% of 8th graders drink, while 6.5% use marijuana
  • 21.5% of 10th graders drink, while 14.8% use marijuana
  • 35.3% of 12th graders drink, while 21.3% use marijuana

Further research and statistics show people ages 12 – 20 account for 11% of all the alcohol consumed in the U.S. Adolescents also consume 90% of their alcohol via binge drinking — 5.3 million teens surveyed said they had five or more drinks within a few hours at least once in the month, and 1.3 million surveyed said they had five or more drinks within a few hours more than five times in the past month.

The Legal Consequences of Underage Binge Drinking

In the United States, federal law prohibits people under the age of 21 years old from purchasing, consuming or possessing alcohol. As a result, underage drinking carries the weight of many legal punishments if a teen is caught breaking these laws.


The most typical legal consequences of underage drinking are:

  • Loss or suspension of driver’s license
  • Fines
  • Jail time
  • Community service
  • Educational classes

The lengths of these sentences and fine amounts vary from state to state. For example, in Minnesota, minors caught trying to illegally purchase alcohol will have their license suspended for 90 days, and those caught using a fake ID will pay a fine of $110. In Texas, underage drinking is a misdemeanor and kids caught doing so can be fined up to $500, lose their license for 30 days, be required to perform more than eight hours of community service and enroll in an alcohol awareness class.

Not only are these consequences of binge drinking inconvenient and expensive in the short-term, but a criminal record can also follow your teen around for the rest of their life.

Legal consequences of drug use can prevent a young person from getting into college, beginning a career in a field of their choice and even joining the military or police force.

Identifying an Alcohol Problem

It’s not always easy to identify an underage drinking problem — teenagers know they can get in trouble for possessing or consuming alcohol underage so they hide their drinking. There are some common signs of alcohol abuse, though, that may tip you off about your child’s underage drinking.

Watch out for signs of an alcohol problem, including:

  • Missing alcohol from the family liquor cabinet or wine cellar
  • The odor of alcohol on a teen’s breath or clothes
  • Slurred speech
  • Suspicious behavior
  • Empty liquor, wine or beer bottles or cans hidden in the garbage or teen’s bedroom

Combined with increased moodiness, a new group of friends and failing grades, these behaviors may all be signs your child is doing more than just drinking casually — there could be a teen addiction at play.

It can be hard to come to grips with this fact, but addiction is a medical disease that can affect people of all ages, including adolescents.


Helping Your Teen Overcome Binge Drinking

Helping your teen stop binge drinking may be harder than you expect, depending on the circumstances. For some kids, education on the health and legal consequences of excessive drinking and stricter rules at home may be enough to convince them to stop abusing alcohol.

But for young people with alcohol dependence, simply talking about the issue isn’t enough. Alcoholism is a medical condition, not a choice, and one that requires medical attention and professional treatment. Rehab for alcohol addiction is recognized as a very successful treatment for binge drinkers. Many rehab facilities are geared specifically toward teens, and will teach your child sober living skills and how to resist their cravings for alcohol.

Your family doctor may be able to recommend a teen rehab facility in your area, or the recovery advisors at our free addiction hotline are also available to offer you help. Whether you’re looking for more information on teen rehab, alcoholism or just want to talk, our recovery advisors are always available to take your call confidentially and free of charge.


  • Bergman, Paul. "Underage Drinking and Minor-in-Possession Laws." Nolo, n.d. Web. 14 Sept. 2016.
  • National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. "Underage Drinking." National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. National Institutes of Health, Jan. 2016. Web. 14 Sept. 2016.
  • Saint John's University. "Alcohol and the Law – CSB/SJU." College of Saint Benedict & Saint John's University. Saint John's University, Aug. 2015. Web. 14 Sept. 2016.

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