Binge-drinking is having a lot of alcoholic drinks on any one occasion.
Binge-drinking can include drinking to get drunk or ‘get wasted’ as quickly as possible, or drinking to stay in a ‘good drunkenness state’ at parties, festivals or clubs.
Some teenagers think of binge-drinking and getting drunk as a ‘rite of passage’. They might do it on special occasions like 16th and 18th birthdays, school graduations or schoolies week. Some teenagers binge-drink more often than that.
Teenagers who binge-drink even once are at higher risk of:
- getting alcohol poisoning
- not being able to look after themselves while drunk
- taking dangerous risks and having accidents – for example, being killed on the road while walking home drunk
- being involved in physical, verbal or sexual violence
- having unsafe sex, picking up a sexually transmitted infection or getting pregnant
- having hangovers the next day, with headaches, nausea, shakiness and vomiting
- developing thinking and behaviour problems in adulthood.
Binge-drinking and alcohol-related violence get a lot of media attention. This can actually make binge-drinking seem normal to teenagers.
Binge-drinking can be especially risky for teenagers who have certain medical conditions or are using certain medications. It’s a good idea to talk with your GP about alcohol use if your child is on medication or has a medical condition.
Alcohol is the drug that causes the most harm across all ages in Australia. Repeated alcohol use can become a habit, and your child can become dependent on alcohol very quickly. The best way to minimise harm from alcohol use is not to use it at all. No-one under 18 years should drink alcohol.
Predrinking (or preloading) is when people drink before they go out to parties, pubs, clubs and other places where they can buy alcohol.
Some teenagers and adults predrink because it’s part of their ritual of going out, they want to get drunk quickly, or they want to feel more social or relaxed. Some also believe they’re saving money because alcohol at venues is expensive. But if you predrink and get drunk, you often end up spending more than you wanted to when you go out.
You can read more about why your child might want to try alcohol and what you can do to prevent it in our articles on preventing or minimising teenage alcohol use and helping teenagers who are using alcohol.
Your child comes home drunk after binge-drinking: first steps
If your child comes home drunk after binge-drinking, you might feel angry or disappointed. Talking about it is important – but you’ll need to wait until your child is safe, sober and rested and you’re both calm.
Here’s what to do straight away:
- Monitor your child’s breathing and heart rate to make sure he’s safe from alcohol poisoning. Don’t send your child to bed to sleep it off.
- Make sure your child has sobered up, is hydrated with water and isn’t going to vomit before you leave her to sleep.
- Immediately call 000 for an ambulance if your child gets groggy, stops breathing or can’t be woken up, hallucinates or behaves strangely.
Don’t leave a drunk person to sleep it off – always keep watch. Teenagers can seem less drunk than they are. But the alcohol in their systems keeps having a toxic effect even when they’ve stopped drinking. They can also be sick, swallow their own vomit and risk choking to death.
Next steps: talking about your child’s binge-drinking
Plan what you’re going to say before you talk with your child. What you say depends on whether this is the first time or a repeat incident.
It’s time to talk when your child’s hangover has lessened and he can concentrate.
It’s OK to say what you feel about your child’s actions, but it’s also important to listen actively to your child without judging.
For example, you might say:
- ‘We need to talk about last night. I want to talk to you at 3 pm so we can work out what to do next.’
- ‘You broke the rules, big time. We need to look at the rules again and talk about consequences.’
- ‘We had a deal – no alcohol, no drugs. Wait to be picked up from the party or call. We need to work out where we go from here.’
Rules about binge-drinking: putting them into action
If you and your child have agreed rules on binge-drinking and consequences for breaking the rules, now’s the time to put them into action. Be prepared for your child to make excuses, but stick to your agreed rules anyway.
Don’t have rules?
If you don’t have rules and consequences, you can create some that you both agree on. If your child is involved in negotiating fair rules and consequences, she’s more likely to stick to them. It might help to talk about how ‘fair’ doesn’t mean always getting your own way.
You can include parent rules too. An essential parent rule is that no matter what happens, your child can call you and you’ll help. Tell your child you’ll stick to this.
Once you’ve agreed on the rules, you could write them down so they’re clear and you can check them if you need to.
Broken an agreed rule?
If your child has broken the rules, facing up to his behaviour can help him learn that all actions have consequences – and that he’s responsible for his actions. And when you follow through with consequences for breaking the rules about drinking alcohol, you send a strong message that binge-drinking is not OK.
Dealing with a hangover might be the only consequence your child needs. She might be harder on herself than you expect. But if your child has broken the rules many times, you might need to look at more serious consequences.
Your child’s binge-drinking doesn’t change: what to do
Seek professional help if your child’s binge-drinking becomes a regular thing.
To find out how to get some help, speak to your GP and ask to be referred to a health professional with expertise in this area.
Signs that your child might be binge-drinking regularly or abusing alcohol and other drugs include:
- changes in personality or behaviour – for example, becoming secretive or behaving erratically
- withdrawal from family or changes in friendships or peer group
- money problems or possessions disappearing or getting lost or sold
- moodiness or depression
- poor sleeping habits or unusual tiredness
- changes in physical appearance – for example, rapid weight loss
- loss of interest in usual activities.
Excessive drinking can be a form of self-harm and can be life threatening. Regular binge-drinking isn’t ‘just a phase’ that all young people go through. You can support your child to get early help and prevent the behaviour from getting out of control.