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Binge drinking among young people

binge drinking
binge drinking | ©: Markus Bormann - Fotolia

In recent years, a concept has become the focus of the media. One is almost inclined to call that the “taboo word” of the decade. What we are talking about is the so-called “binge-drinking”. Whenever this term comes up, uncertainty is to follow. What exactly is it? What are the reasons for this behaviour, particularly in children and adolescents? What preventive measures are there? It’s time to shed some light on this issue.


Binge drinking - that sounds initially clear: drunkenness until one passes out. But really, does it have to come that far, or is this term simply a new genre of drinking habits? Correct is, though that the media brings the term “binge drinking” in context with the alcohol consumption in particularly with children and young people. In English-speaking countries one speaks of "binge drinking", i.e. drinking alcohol in a group or as part of a party. While part of the term holds some truth, in reality it is quite inadequate.

The aim of binge drinking is to knowingly getting intoxicated and to put oneself into a frenzy in the shortest possible time. Therefore, getting drunk is not something that happens incidental but becomes the linchpin in a whole group. Sometimes the activity of “binge drinking” is also called “battle or contest drinking”. Because there is also the time factor. With “binge drinking” you want to become intoxicated as quickly as possible. Eventually everything only becomes a means to an end.

The worrying trend towards “binge drinking”

Make no mistake: Nearly every adult today has once (or several times) “sinned” during their younger years and drank way too much. We woke up the next morning with a massive hangover on and our parents said something like: “If you can get drunk then you can live with the unpleasant consequences just as well.” However, it must be said, that back then the entire drinking problem usually remained within reasonable limits and did not get out of control as it is often the case these days.

binge drinking
binge drinking | ©: 2012 Markus W. Lambrecht - Fotolia

One has to become concerned when children and young people are not taught any boundaries anymore. Therefore, they also have no boundaries they could apply in connection with alcohol consumption. The consequences of this behaviour without boundaries are that the result of drinking are no longer a harmless hangover but becomes an admission to the ER of the nearest hospital. Studies show that the number of alcohol abuse, which end up in a hospital, has more than doubled over the last ten years. And it gets even worse. Lately, there is already a number of dead children and young people as a result of acute alcohol intoxication.

For the coming years, experts presume an even greater expansion of this phenomenon. A great concern, on top the already mentioned consequences of alcohol abuse is that the age of intoxicated children is getting younger and younger. It is not uncommon anymore that the ER sees 12-year-old ones with a blood alcohol level of 3.0 or more. It is almost unimaginable the damage such a high alcohol level can do to such a young child. A young body responds much more sensitive to alcohol poisoning. Therefore, permanent damage can’t be ruled out in those case.

The effects of “binge drinking”

“Binge drinking” has fatal consequences, not only for the health of children and adolescents but also to the whole of society. But firstly let’s look at the health effects.

Alcohol is a poison with a very strong effect on the underdeveloped body. Apart from the usual effects that even adults feel after an excessive alcohol consumption (for example, damage to the liver and - in the longer term - also the brain). In children and young people, it is to consider that the alcohol has an adverse influence on their physical development as it will interfere or negatively affect their mental development. In long-term, even clinical disorders, for example, you see extreme stunting which are unequivocally related to excessive alcohol consumption.

The social effects are not negligible either. The child or young person engaging in “binge drinking” as a “"leisurely activity" achieves exactly the opposite of what he wanted. Lack of attention and social respect, which got him in this “drinking business” in the first place only gets him into a position where society eventually will label him as antisocial; a sideliner. The whole thing is like a downward spiral. Once it started, it turns faster and faster. Initially, the young person only finds recognition in a small group of other “binge drinkers”. However, as a rule of the thumb those cliques break apart rapidly because everyone has to deal with their own problems.

Reasons for “binge drinking”

The reasons that binge drinking has become almost a sport or leisurely activity for children and young people are manifold in recent years. On one hand, the consumption of alcohol in our society has increasingly become the norm. Therefore, even youngest among us don’t see it disreputable to get drunk on a regular base. On the other hand, we experience an increasing brutalization of society as a whole in recent years. Children and young people who mentally and emotional are still very fragile can no longer cope with the rules and constraints of society and self-medicate with the excessive use of alcohol.

Another reason is a lack of opportunities for children and young people to find their own place in society. Everyone strives for recognition and praise for his achievements. However, if the expectations placed on young people are too high or only find insufficient recognition frustration is building up rapidly. The young person quickly looks for alternatives to proof himself. This explains why “binge drinking” is widely organized as a competition in our day and age. The winner is who manages to drink the largest amount of alcohol in the shortest possible time and, therefore, achieved the desired intoxication first. If a young person can’t find excellence in any other area in his life will often perceive, “binge drinking” is the last “discipline” to distinguish himself from others, to outdo his competitors.

Are there any preventive measures against “binge drinking”?

To protect children from the effects “binge drinking”, appropriate preventive measures need to be taken. Partly they are covered by the legal side through the Youth Protection Act. However, the monitoring of this law is still very lax. To ensure a more widespread surveillance, we would need more staff in the respective offices. However, therefore we lack the financial resources. In Germany, regarding police, outreach- and youth workers, there are thousands of jobs missing by now.

binge drinking
Youth and alcohol | ©: lassedesignen - Fotolia

Therefore, the law can only give general guidelines for effective prevention against “binge drinking”; therefore the monitoring is very patchy. To get this problem under control in a foreseeable future, further measures need to be implemented.

In particular, an increased attention of parents is especially important. The signs of alcohol abuse can be seen quite clearly, especially in the beginning. For example, the child might neglect its appearance or socially isolates himself, etc. In this case, you should not waste any time and seek a dialogue with your child. Do this without blaming or allegations. Instead, help him to look for the reasons for his behaviour and work towards possible solutions. You can also try to come up with mutually agreeable rules, regarding the consumption of alcohol.

Whoever feels that he can’t trust himself to successfully alleviate the situation, there is professional help available. There are of Dependency Counselling Centres offered, the online counselling from Caritas or the corresponding advice centres of various Churches. If you are using the Internet in your search for information, use the tag "Addiction Treatment" in your preferred search engine.

Finally, a few tips for the youth workers:

Anyone who is active in youth work will be faced with the issue of alcohol, alcohol abuse as well as “binge drinking”. Maybe only through hearsay or young people flaunting their “drinking expeditions”. Raising your eyebrows or moral instructions usually do not get you anywhere. Especially not when the youth worker already told about his “binges” – he would have no creditability to begin with. It is also possible that the one or other youth worker will be overwhelmed because he is still a junior employee.

Nevertheless, how could a youth leader face this issue and the youth-at-risk?

It’s advisable for the youth worker to get to know and understand the troubled, young person. He also should seek a dialogue with the young people. Discuss, why is “binge drinking” so cool?

Finding and identifying what instigates young people to drink in the first place:

  • Lack of self-esteem?
  • Inferiority complex?
  • Showing off?
  • A need for belonging – I don’t want to be excluded?
  • Drinking out of boredom?
  • Avoiding life - because I feel like a failure
  • Getting drunk to forget, as an escape from life or from problems?

Provide assistance

  • Explain that saying “NO” indeed shows strength

  • Explain that this can backfire. The many ways you can disgrace yourself hanging around totally smashed, vomiting all over the place and doing all sort of things you don’t even know doing.

  • Encourage the young people and support them with their problems. Help him to find himself again. No one needs to feel inferior to other people or like a failure.

  • The youth worker can provide of some of what is missing: understanding, recognition and support.

As a youth worker what you should not do under any circumstances:

  • Not taking the young people seriously
  • Condemn the young people
  • Talk badly about the young person or even expose him
  • “Binge drink” yourself and brag about it.

[ © | 2000 Games and Ideas for Youth Work ] - 2000 Games and Ideas for Youth Work
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