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The Danger of Drinking Games for Teens

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT

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Celebrations in the U.S. often feature alcohol. At sports events, concerts, parties, and sometimes school dances and proms, it’s quite common to see young adults and teenagers with alcoholic beverages in hand. This even happens when alcohol isn’t officially allowed at these events. Teens manage to sneak in alcohol anyway. Or they may pregame the event by getting drunk beforehand.

Unfortunately, this practice has reached the point where parents need to ask their teen whether alcohol is going to be served – or perhaps more accurately, imbibed – at a party hosted by their friends or peers.

At these parties, teen drinking games are common. There are several reasons games like Beer Pong, Never Have I Ever, Quarters, 21, Most Likely, Ring of Fire, are risky for teenagers. But the main problem is that they encourage excessive, systematic, frequent overindulgence in alcohol.

This is called binge drinking.

Drinking Games Encourage Binge Drinking

Binge drinking can lead to immediate and long-term physical and psychological harm. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as consuming:

  • 4 drinks in about 2 hours (women)
  • 5 drinks in about 2 hours (men)

Drinking alcohol in these amounts in that short time period can bring blood alcohol concentration (BAC) up to 0.08 g/dl, which is a dangerous level.

Here are some of the dangers of binge drinking:

  • Alcohol poisoning. The #1 danger of binge drinking is alcohol poisoning. Teen alcohol poisoning is very real and leads to thousands of emergency room visits a year. Alcohol can impair heart rate, body temperature, cause vomiting, seizures, irregular heart rate and breathing, and lower body temperature. All of these symptoms can cause a teen to pass out (unconscious), fall into a coma, and even die. Long term alcohol consumption also damages the liver, heart, brain tissue, and most vital organs.
  • Car accidents. Alcohol causes over 4,300 automobile-related deaths among teens each year. Driving under the influence of alcohol or accepting a ride from someone who’s been drinking can be fatal. There’s no getting around it. Driving drunk or riding with a drunk person is very dangerous.
  • Alcohol use disorder. People who start drinking as a teen (before age 15) are four times more likely to develop an alcohol/substance use disorder than those who begin drinking at age 21. Chronic early alcohol use can exacerbate the physical damage – seizures, irregular heart rate, organ damage – wrought by alcohol on a teen’s body, as mentioned in the first bullet point above.
  • Risky behavior. Teens who drink are more likely to get involved in risky situations. They’re more likely to get in fights, have casual sex, commit or be the victims of sexual assault. In these situations, due to the impaired decision-making and lowered inhibitions caused by alcohol, teens can find themselves in situations they have no control over. Long-term consequences of these risky situations can include pregnancy, STDs, arrest, jail, school expulsions, and general legal problems.

Drinking Games Lead to Uncomfortable Situations

This brings us to our next point: drinking games can result in uncomfortable, embarrassing situations. Alcohol removes inhibitions, so teens – egged on by peer pressure – act and speak in ways they never would under normal circumstances.

For example, the game “Never Have I Ever” encourages teens to confess to personal things they’ve done – such as cheating on a test, shoplifting, or having sex, for instance – by taking a swig of their drink. Such a game can cause shame and embarrassment for all teens. First, in that hazy fog of drink, teens may confess things they’ve never wanted to share with others. They will likely regret their answers the next morning in the light of day. But even the teens who don’t regularly answer in the affirmative may feel excluded if all their friends take a drink when, say, the question of sex comes up. Certain teens may even face ridicule and shame from peers for their responses.

Another game common among teens is Most Likely.

Someone starts by asking the group “Which person here is most likely to _____?”

Predictions typically revolve around embarrassing, inappropriate, or insulting scenarios like these:

Who here is most likely to…

…get expelled from school?

…end up in jail?

…. secretly be a virgin?

After a count of three, everyone points to the most likely person, and – according to the rules of the game – that person has to drink. This game can bring intense shame and embarrassment to the person singled out.

These games are often the norm at teen parties.

Binge Drinking and Teens

Parents should never allow their teen to attend events where there’s unrestricted access to alcohol.

The 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) indicates that almost 5 percent of individuals age 12-17 reported binge drinking in the past month – that’s about 1.25 million people. The rates of alcohol use among teenagers may not be surprising to some. After all, one of the reasons alcohol is a problem in the U.S. is because teen drinking has become almost like an alternate rite of passage. But alcohol use is never innocuous: it can lead to addiction in teens.

Teen Substance Abuse and Addiction Treatment

Parents who feel their teen is developing (or has already developed) an alcohol or substance use disorder should consider seeking professional help for their teen immediately. Teen rehab centers, adolescent substance use treatment programs, and dual diagnosis treatment programs for teens (which treat both mental health and addiction issues) can help teens recover from alcohol and/or substance abuse.

Additionally, if a teen comes home from parties inebriated, don’t automatically dismiss it as a typical adolescent rite of passage. Though teens often experiment with alcohol, getting drunk is always a cause of concern and requires some form of intervention on the part of the parents.

The best option is a full assessment from a mental health professional, That way, parents can confirm or eliminate the presence of addiction. If a teen receives a diagnosis for an alcohol use disorder, they can receive treatment. And if not, then parents, the teen, and the mental health professional can work together to get to the bottom of the drinking behavior, and stop it before it becomes a problem.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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