When questioned about illegal, mood-altering substance use, 15,743 high school students surveyed in the last three years with the Independent School Health Check said alcohol is most commonly used. For the 30 days prior to filling out the survey, 33.9 percent of the students reported drinking, and 24.2 percent reported binge drinking (five or more drinks in a three-hour period). Although the majority who binged did so one to two times, 5.2 percent reported binging three or more times in the month.

The frequency of drinking affects frequency of binging. For those who drank one to two times in the month, the rate of binging was 38.6 percent, but for those who drank three to five times, the binging rate jumped to 79.4 percent.

Binge drinking is significantly age related, increasing from 5.7 percent reported for ninth-graders to 31.4 percent for 12th-graders. Males binge more than females by 6 percent, but are two-thirds of those binging three or more times.

Being drunk comes with its own obvious health and safety risks, but binging and risk taking are often closely related:

  • 42 percent of bingers report cheating on tests and quizzes, 2.5 times greater than non-bingers;
  • 68 percent of bingers report oral-sex experience;
  • 53 percent report sexual intercourse;
  • 46.5 percent report marijuana use;
  • 20.1 percent report intercourse under influence; and
  • 17.0 percent report driving under the influence.

As the “Frequency of Binging” chart indicates (with blue representing those who do not binge drink), the frequency of binging directly affects the frequency of the risk taking.

Parties, particularly unchaperoned parties, represent the primary venue for binge drinking. When asked how often the student had attended parties in the month and how often the parties had been chaperoned by an adult, on average, binge drinkers reported attending unchaperoned parties 53.7 percent of the time, although the heaviest drinkers attended unchaperoned parties 63.5 percent of the time. Some drinking occurred after school — on average, 29.9 percent of the bingers drank with friends after school and 10.7 percent drank alone after school — although for the heaviest drinkers, the rate more than doubled.

Adults have an important role to play in adolescent drinking and binging, particularly since adult permission is highly correlated to excess. For adolescents whose parents allowed them to drink at home, the rate of binge drinking (42.3 percent) was twice that of those not given permission. Compared with the binging rate for adolescents who are not given permission to drink, the binging rate quadrupled (19.4 percent) for those whose parents allowed their friends to drink in their home; the rate nearly quadrupled (36.9 percent) if the children were given permission to drink outside the home.

In a six-month retrospective, 64 percent of the bingers said they had attended parties in which adults were present, 40.8 percent reported that adults had supplied the alcohol, and 12.4 percent reported the adults had consumed alcohol with them.

Strategies to reduce drinking and binging might include social norming. Even among the oldest students, the majority do not drink — a point that might be illuminating for parents, as well as for students who believe that “everyone at [the school] drinks.”

For schools, these data suggest the benefits of adding the following aspects to school prevention programs:

  1. Show students the data that demonstrates the association between binging and high-risk behaviors.
  2. Encourage parents to be responsible chaperones at parties.
  3. Alert parents to the illegality of and the dangers of allowing underage drinking.
  4. Help parents understand that they can make a difference in preventing the untold consequences of binge drinking for their children and their children’s peers.