Binge-drinking is having a lot of alcoholic drinks at any one time or continuously over several days or weeks.
Binge-drinking can include drinking to get drunk or ‘get wasted’ as quickly as possible. It can also be 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 or just part of having a good time. They might do it on special occasions like 16th or 18th birthdays, school graduations or schoolies week. Some teenagers binge-drink more often than that.
Risks of binge-drinking
Binge-drinking can cause harm in many ways.
Teenagers who binge-drink even once are at higher risk of:
- getting alcohol poisoning, which can be fatal
- 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
- experiencing headaches, nausea, shakiness and vomiting
- getting into situations they might later regret or feel embarrassed about.
Binge-drinking can be especially risky for teenagers who have certain medical conditions or are using certain medicines. It’s a good idea to talk with your GP about your child’s alcohol use, especially if your child takes medicine regularly or has a medical condition.
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 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 or drink alcohol.
Teenagers and adults might predrink because it’s part of their going out ritual, they want to get drunk quickly, or they want to feel more social or relaxed. Some also predrink to save money because alcohol at venues is more expensive. But if you predrink and get drunk, you can often end up drinking more and spending more than you want to anyway. And this can increase the risks of binge-drinking.
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.
First steps when teenagers come home drunk after binge-drinking
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 they’re safe from alcohol poisoning. Don’t send your child to bed to sleep it off.
- If your child is lying down, make sure they’re lying on their side so their airway is clear and they can breathe freely.
- Make sure your child has sobered up, is hydrated with water and isn’t going to vomit before you leave them 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.
Never leave a drunk person alone to sleep it off – always keep watch. Teenagers can seem less drunk than they are. But the alcohol in their body can cause damage to vital organs, even after they've stopped drinking. They can also vomit and inhale their vomit, which can obstruct their airway.
Next steps: talking about teenage 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 no longer has a hangover and can concentrate. Try to talk with your child within a day of the drinking.
It’s OK to say what you feel about your child’s behaviour, 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. 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: making them and 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, your child will be 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 their behaviour can help them learn that all actions have consequences. It can also help your child learn that they’re responsible for their actions. And when you follow through with consequences for breaking the rules about drinking alcohol, you send a strong message that drinking alcohol in your teens and binge-drinking are not OK.
Dealing with a hangover might be the only consequence your child needs. Your child might be harder on themselves than you expect. But it’s still important to talk to them about it. And if your child has broken the rules many times, you might need to look at more serious consequences.
When teenagers keep binge-drinking: what to do
Seek professional help if your child’s binge-drinking becomes a regular thing.
To find out how to get 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 or other drugs include:
- changes in personality or behaviour – for example, becoming secretive or behaving unpredictably
- withdrawal from family or changes in friendships or peer groups
- 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 is a serious problem. With your support, your child can get early help and stop the behaviour from getting out of control.