Skip to main content

Recognizing Binge Drinking In Teens


teens drowning in alcohol

Adolescence is a time in a young person’s life that is typically driven by curiosity and a newfound need for autonomy. As such, it is often difficult to distinguish the difference between typical teenage behavior and a teen that may be struggling and in need of professional support. For example, it is not uncommon for young people to experiment with drugs and/ or alcohol during the teenage years. While some teenager’s experience of drugs and/ or alcohol use will consist of engaging in substance use infrequently, others may depart from the experimenting stage and embark on an unhealthy path that involves frequent use. In America, alcohol is recognized as the most commonly used substance of abuse among young people. In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a national study that found that eleven percent of young people (between ages twelve to twenty) reported binge drinking in the past month. There are many different reasons as to why a teen may engage in binge drinking (e.g. peer pressure, cultural influences, boredom, etc.).

What Is Binge Drinking?

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) binge drinking is “defined as a pattern of drinking that results in blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels of 0.08 g/DL and above.” As explained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention binge drinking typically “corresponds to 5 or more drinks on a single occasion for men or 4 or more drinks on a single occasion for women, generally within about 2 hours.” The NIAAA indicates that young people can reach BAC levels of 0.08% with fewer drinks than adults, so it includes the following additional binge drinking guidelines for youth:

  • Males age 9 – 13: around 3 drinks
  • Males age 14 – 15: around 4 drinks
  • Males age 16 – 17: around 5 drinks
  • Females age 9 – 17: around 3 drinks

The above is an approximation, as the precise amount of alcohol it will take for each young person to exceed BAC levels of 0.08% is variable.

Signs of Binge Drinking

Every teenager is unique and each young person has the propensity to exhibit a distinct combination of signs when it comes to binge drinking. The Child Mind Institute provides examples of signs that may be indicative of teenage binge drinking, some of which include but are not limited to the following: 

  • Marked behavioral changes
  • Decreased personal hygiene practices
  • Drastic changes in academic performance
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Increased interpersonal struggles
  • Argumentative 
  • Inexplicable need for money
  • Glazed, bloodshot eyes
  • Smelling of alcohol on breath and/ or clothes
  • Flushed, reddened skin
  • Slurred speech
  • Coordination problems

Bear in mind that an adolescent’s brain is not yet fully developed. Teenagers are notoriously recognized as highly emotional and impulsive beings, with good reason. The prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain that reigns rational thought, executive planning and impulse control) does not reach its full development until age twenty-five, at the earliest. This means that teenagers innately process, problem solve and make decisions using their amygdala (the area of the brain that is most closely associated with impulsivity, aggression, emotion, and instinctive behavior). The effects of consistent teenage binge drinking can lead to a plethora of adverse short and long-term consequences. 

For Information and Support 

Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know is in need of mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person for the long term. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to happy, healthy and fulfilling lives.

Our admissions team is available to answer any general questions regarding mental health issues, treatment, and/or specific questions about the program at Pacific Teen Treatment and how we might be able to help your family. We can be reached by phone 24/7 at 800-531-5769. You can also contact us via email at

Close Menu
Back to top