Mental health expert warns against deadly consequences of binge drinking

Published: Aug. 29, 2023 at 10:43 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Binge drinking is a bigger problem for college students between the age of 18 to 22 than in the same age group if they are not in college. That is according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

So, just as this school year is getting underway, we have this advice from Dr. Christopher Townsend, Ph.D., Director of the Mental Health Clinic at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.  He says first, we need to understand that binge drinking refers to excessive drinking in a short period of time. For women, that would mean four or more drinks within two hours. For men, that would be considered five or more drinks in a two hour period.

Dr. Townsend says many college students do not realize what is happening to them when they socialize and drink, because they are enjoying their new independence and making new friends.

“Particularly in a social setting where there’s a party, they’re chugging alcohol. They’re having these games that they’re playing. And so, they get way more alcohol in their system than the body can metabolize,” he said.

The problem is what excessive alcohol does to the body.

“With continued engagement in those excessive ways, it actually changes the brain, and the brain becomes dependent on that activity. And so, it changes moods. It changes obligations in the way that they get about in the world,” Dr. Townsend said.

We know from the CDC that six people die every day in this country due to alcohol poisoning; when there is too much alcohol in the bloodstream, the areas of the brain that control basic life support functions begin to shut down. That can lead to brain damage or death, not to mention the higher risk of violence, car crashes and drunk driving arrests. All are linked to binge drinking.

So, what can students do to avoid the peer pressure to drink?

Dr. Townsend says you can blend in at a party without actually indulging. His advice? Take your own little red cup. People can bring their own drink and always keep it full, whether it’s water or a soft drink. That makes it easy to say, “Thanks, I have a drink.”

Dr. Townsend says you can’t judge a drink by how others are handling it.

“In those social environments where there’s a lot of pressure: ‘come on, try this. Come on, do this. It will not hurt you.’ Well, this person may have been doing this a long time,” Dr. Townsend said. “And the potency of whatever they’re using, they may have developed a tolerance to it. And if you do it, and you are virgin to that, you may not have the same experience, and it could potentially be dangerous for you.”

When it comes to alcohol poisoning, men and women are both at risk. However, the CDC says the most common group to die from excessive alcohol in a short amount of time is non-Hispanic white men.