Why Do Young Adults Binge Drink?

Garrett Stanford
September 6, 2020

Let’s face it: drinking alcohol is a national pastime. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, more than 50% of people in the United States reporting drinking alcohol in the last month, and more than 86% had consumed alcohol at some point in their lives. Alcohol consumption plays an important role in social life, religious rituals, business meetings, and it is seen as normal. Many people don’t even think of alcohol as a drug, even though this hard drug is the most abused substance in the world. In 2018, 14.4 million adults and almost half a million adolescents met the criteria for alcohol use disorder. Drinking is responsible for 31% of driving fatalities, and alcohol overdoses take the lives of approximately 88,000 people in the United States every year.

There are many types of alcohol consumption. By far the most dangerous way of drinking alcohol is binge drinking. Binge drinking involves consuming a high amount of alcohol in a short period of time. Generally, this means consuming at least 4-5 standard drinks in a period of under 2 hours (a standard drink refers to any drink containing 14 grams of pure alcohol, such as a 12 oz beer or a 5 oz glass of wine). Binge drinking is most popular among young people. Young people between the ages of 12 and 20 consume 90% of their alcohol via binge drinking.


Reasons for Heavy Drinking

The reasons young adults engage in binge drinking are complex. Not everyone who binge drinks necessarily suffers from an alcohol use disorder. For many, binge drinking is perceived as a right of passage. The cultures of many colleges place great emphasis on binge drinking. This can lead undergraduates to feel enormous social pressure to binge drink for social acceptance. Student organizations like college fraternities and sororities can increase this pressure. Young people are more susceptible to peer pressure. While a person may intend to drink just one beer, being around peers who are drinking far more than that can cause them to consume more to fit in.


Binge drinking is also widely perceived as the most effective way of getting drunk. Alcohol intoxication can be pleasurable — that’s why people drink in the first place. However, people who pursue alcohol intoxication as an end in itself often do so for unhealthy reasons. Alcohol can temporarily relieve the symptoms of mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression. It can make people feel brave and relieve social anxiety. However, binge drinking is ultimately likely to make most of these problems worse.


Effects of Binge Drinking

Alcohol consumption via binge drinking can lead to a number of short term dangers and long term side effects. These effects manifest as health problems, interpersonal difficulties, and life-threatening overdoses. Common side effects of binge drinking include:


  • Fatal automobile collisions
  • Unintentional injuries
  • Violence, such as intimate partner violence, homicide, and sexual assault
  • Increased rates of suicidal ideation and suicide
  • Unsafe sexual practices, leading to increased transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancies
  • Miscarriage, stillbirth, fetal alcohol syndrome
  • Memory, learning, and cognitive problems
  • Cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon, and breast
  • Chronic diseases, including stroke, high blood pressure, liver disease, and heart disease
  • Interpersonal conflicts
  • Loss of job
  • Criminal and legal consequences
  • Financial problems
  • Alcohol use disorder


Getting Help

Alcohol addiction, which is sometimes known as alcohol use disorder, is a serious mental health condition. Unfortunately, all too often people are reluctant to get help. This is partly due to the social stigmas surrounding alcohol addiction. It may also be difficult for people to recognize a problem with alcohol, given alcohol’s ubiquity in the culture at large. This difficulty is stronger for young adults, who are often under the mistaken idea that they are “too young” to suffer from an addiction. The reality, however, is that alcohol use disorder is a progressive disease. Binge drinking that begins as a harmless form of fun can quickly become a destructive activity that one is powerless to say not to. It is essential for anyone who is struggling with alcohol abuse to seek help as soon as possible.


As a disorder that affects the brain’s decision-making abilities, alcohol use disorder is not a condition that can be managed through self-will alone. Outpatient treatment centers allow people to develop the skills and coping tools they need to avoid relapse. These programs are also excellent opportunities for young people to develop sober social support systems that can be powerful alternatives to the drinking cultures found in many youthful milieus. It is possible to stop abusing alcohol and to treat alcohol use disorder, and it’s never too early

Garrett Stanford
Garrett Stanford brings years of experience working with individuals and families struggling with substance abuse and behavioral health issues. He began working in the nonprofit treatment sector for 2 years before transitioning into the private sector. Garrett has been involved in treatment since 2010, with 10+ years of experience ranging from operations, administration, admissions and addiction research.
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