Binge-drinking and the Danger to Adolescents -by Edward L. Oriole, LCPC N.C.C.
Due to the long term effects of alcohol abuse, binge drinking has become a major public
What is binge drinking? Social, medical and emotional health media categorize “binge-
drinking” as a pejorative term. It includes individuals who engage in heavy, episodic
consumption of alcohol. This is largely intended to become intoxicated in a short period
of time. I agree with that definition and add that the binge drinking can last up to several
days and occasionally even weeks. My colleagues and myself, here at The Lighthouse
Emotional Wellness Center, view binge drinking as a dangerous behavior. The outcomes
are often felt by the individual who commits binge drinking and also the families that have
to endure the dangerous behavior. It is not normal adolescent behavior. Instead it can
cause emotional wreckage within families and cause significant impediments to career
and academic success.
What is the danger of binge drinking? Brain damage occurs faster and more severely
with binge drinking than it does with chronic alcohol abuse (i.e. alcoholism). The neurotoxic damage is more acute with the practice of binge drinking. The sheer volume of
alcohol ingested in a short period of time damages or destroys neurons in the brain.
When I see an adolescent, in my practice, that indulges in binge drinking, I visualize the
behavior as a self-inflicted hammer blows to their young, developing brain. Medical
doctors assure me that repeated episodes of binge drinking, results in accumulated and
sustained neural brain damage. The developing brain of an adolescent is particularly
susceptible to the neurotoxic effects of binge drinking. Sadly the damage does not end
with the brain. Binge drinking is associated with profound social harm, economic costs
and a host of organ system damage. Once the euphoric effects of binge drinking wears
off and the hangover is concluded, the adverse effects upon neurological, cardiac,
hematologic and gastrointestinal systems within the human body continue and multiply.
There is another danger that we address here at the Lighthouse Emotional Wellness
Center. That danger is the emotional wreckage that is inflicted upon families that include
binge drinker(s). Forty percent of adult alcoholics report heavy drinking during
adolescence. Repeated episodes of binge drinking, especially at an early age, are
thought to cause a profound risk in the development alcohol and substance related
disorders. Even if all of the above were untrue, study after study associates binge-
drinking in adolescence, having ill effects on the developing adolescent brain. The main
lobes that are involved in decision making and complex thought processes are
undergoing their final development phase during adolescence. Binge drinking can
negatively stunt the growth of the frontal lobes. Long after the behavior is concluded the
medical effects linger on.
How to treat binge drinking? Alcohol problems vary in terms of severity from mild to life
threatening. Its presence affects the individual and the individual’s family. Our focus at
The Lighthouse is to detect if binge drinking is present. Is binge drinking the origin of
family or individual emotional dysfunction? There is a sense of urgency if this is the
case. Our staff seeks to identify and extinguish the binge drinking before it becomes
chronic alcoholism. Our agency seeks to develop emotional wellness and build better
relationships. The presence of binge drinking within a family system is an impediment to
that goal. The purpose of therapy requires building strong therapeutic alliances between
the family, the individual and the therapist. The presence of anxiety, depression, fears
and anger, often mask the real cause. If that cause is binge drinking, by a member of the
family system, it is swiftly identified.
The clinical model that I often employ is: Client Centered Therapy. In short I create an
atmosphere in which the binge drinker or the families member(s) can express their inner
feelings with a certainty that they are being understood and not judged. This model
makes it more likely that the origin or the need for binge drinking will be discovered.
The next step begins when the client commits to the pursuit of healing and growth. This
demands a great deal of courage because the answers and solutions reside within the
individual and not the therapist.
Three elements are demanded from the therapist:
The first is that I must foster a sense of empathy for the clients experience.
The second is that I must demonstrate unconditional positive regard. This eliminates
“finger wagging, judgment and shaming.” I express the unconditional positive regard
The final element is congruence or a sense of genuineness by myself for the wellbeing of
the client. I never hide behind the use of jargon, platitudes and a professional facade.
Client-Centered therapy demands an active role from the binge drinker and/or their family
member. The responsibility to change is firmly within the client. My responsibility is to
create a forum for the change to occur through empathy, unconditional positive regards
and genuineness. The danger of binge drinking becoming chronic alcohol abuse is
lessened when therapy is entered early and as part of a comprehensible treatment plan.
Edward L. Oriole, LCPC, NCC
Staff at The Lighthouse Emotional Wellness Center
1930 Thoreau Drive, Suite 170
Schaumburg, IL. 60173
tel. 847 253 9769