Part 2: Parenting Series

Binge drinking and your teen



Binge drinking has been widely publicised in the media over recent years and is commonly used to label “heavy drinking”, but binge drinking is not just about the number of drinks you have – it’s about drinking with the specific intention of ‘getting drunk’.

Unfortunately, for some people excessive drinking and purposely drinking to get drunk is now seen as the norm thanks to role modelling and social media and while there’s no denying that too many young people drink in risky ways, there are also many teenagers who are trying their best to keep themselves and their friends safe and sociable. So what can we as parents do to help them navigate this journey?


DELAY – As discussed in Part 1 of this Parenting Series, the single best thing we can do for our teens health and wellbeing is to help them abstain from alcohol for as long as possible. Their vital organs, including their brains are still developing until they are in their 20s so any alcohol consumed prior to this can impact their mental and emotional development.

That said, with a Legal purchase age of 18 years in NZ many kiwi teens will consume alcohol long before their 18th birthday – just like many of us did in our day! so let’s have a look at the key reasons teens have for binge drinking and how we can support them to start making smarter drinking choices moving forward:

Why teens binge drink?
  • They’re curious — they want to know what it’s like to drink alcohol but without proper education and role modelling they are likely to overindulge while they find their own limits with different drinks and social situations
  • Peer Pressure – according to social media and their mates “everyone is doing it”. Social connection and a sense of belonging is extremely important to teenagers so “fitting in” can become their number 1 goal for a social occasion, no matter what that requires of them. Note: We will talk more about Peer Pressure and how to combat it in Part 3 of this Parenting Series.
  • Social Confidence – alcohol causes our brain to release dopamine. This is the chemical associated with pleasure, but it also makes you feel confident and powerful. Teens are generally quite self-conscious individuals, and they care a lot about what other people think of them so the perceived confidence that alcohol gives them is like winning a gold medal. Unfortunately, the alcohol also directly impacts the part of the brain associated with good judgment so even if they think they are funny, charming, and totally in control, chances are they aren’t which can actually lead to social shame and embarrassment in the long run.
  • To feel better – Linked to the dopamine rush above, teens may look at alcohol as a way to reduce stress and escape the day-to-day mundane events of teenage life. They believe that drinking will make them feel good, without realising it may make them very sick and/or hung-over. In many instances alcohol also ends up creating more stress in the long run, so it becomes a vicious cycle of chasing the impossible.
  • To save money – Some young people binge drink or ‘preload’ to save money but quickly drinking large amounts of alcohol at home/a friend’s house before heading out. Often, they’re already intoxicated before they walk out the front door. By the time they get to where they’re going their judgement is clouded, causing them to continue drinking more drinks which is both dangerous and means they don’t save money after all.
  • To mask something else – If your teen really believes getting drunk every weekend is normal, there could be other factors at play. Perhaps there are other influences in their lives (peers, older siblings, relatives) or problems that you’re unaware of. Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions and show an active interest in your child’s social life so you can get them the support they need to move forward without relying on alcohol.

Whatever their reason, the best thing you can do for your teen is to keep the lines of communication open – always. As discussed previously, research shows that parent-child relationships characterised by emotional warmth and support, trust, involvement and attachment are associated with lower levels of adolescent alcohol misuse long term. If you need help kick starting this sort of discussion, read on:

Helping our Teens to make smarter choices:
  • Talk to your teen about alcohol and let them know that the smartest choice they can make is not to drink. If you need to know more on this, click here. Also discuss the potential dangers of excessive consumption long term and remind them about the alcohol laws – e.g. drinking in Liquor Ban areas. If they are 18 or older, make sure they know it is a criminal offense to buy/supply alcohol to their underage friends without the express consent of the friend’s parent/guardian.
  • Educate them on standard drinks and help them to understand how alcohol affects your body and mind. Make sure they know exactly what they are drinking at all times
  • Have a clear set of ‘Family Rules’ and expectations so your teen knows what is expected if they choose to drink. Involve your teen in negotiating these rules to ensure they understand the value of them.
  • Talk to your teen about pacing their alcohol intake and hydrating regularly with non-alcoholic drinks like water.
  • Remind them to eat a good meal before and during the drinking occasion – preferably protein & carbohydrate-rich food such as sushi, pasta & pizza etc.

It’ll help slow the rate their body absorbs alcohol and make them feel fuller, so they are likely to drink a bit less. Eating also provides a great distraction and gives your hands something else to do aside from holding a drink!

  • Remind them to be cautious with their drinks, to avoid drinks with high alcohol content (ABV) and to be aware of drink spiking – they shouldn’t take a drink from a stranger unless it is served to them directly by a bartender or similar.
  • Remind them of the importance of staying with their friends and keeping an eye out for each other.
  • Talk to them about avoiding risky situations and behaviours such as swimming after drinking or getting into arguments and fights. Emphasise the importance of never drinking and driving or getting into a car with anyone who’s been drinking.
Note: Teens (and adults) need to be very careful about driving the morning after drinking too. Because our livers can only process approx. 1 standard drink per hour, it’s possible for your blood alcohol content (BAC) to still be elevated the next day.
  • Prepare your teen in case of an emergency. Talk to them about what to do and where to go for help, as well as how to handle confronting situations. Always make sure they plan ahead and keep some money aside for an Uber home or similar
  • Encourage them to contact you regularly so you know they’re safe.  Point out that if they update you regularly, you won’t hassle them!
  • Always get them to tell you who they are with (names and contact details) and where they are staying if they plan to stay over so you can contact them at any stage. Make sure you get more than just their mobile phone number as batteries won’t last forever!
  • If possible, contact the parents of the people they are with for reassurance and confirmation of the group’s plans for the occasion. Remember taking an interest in your teens plans is not about helicopter parenting, it’s about maintaining a trusting parent/child relationship in line with your Family Rules
  • Last but not least, let them know that they can call you at any time of the day or night if they get into trouble, or just need to talk.

Binge drinking is by no means unique to our teens and young people but the more we can do to support them now at this hugely influential time of their life the better. Parenting is never an easy task, but never underestimate the impact of positive role modelling and honest conversations about alcohol no matter how young or old your teens are.

If at any stage you are worried about your teens drinking, please seek professional help from your preferred healthcare professional or contact the friendly folk at the Alcohol Helpline. Both have lots of expertise in this area and can point you in the right direction for the support you/your teen needs.

Good luck and keep up the great work. The fact you have read this article through to here shows how much you care.

The Alcohol&Me Team