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What causes binge drinking?

We've all heard tragic stories in the media about college kids who died while binge drinking, either from alcohol poisoning or from fatal injuries that occurred while they were drunk. Currently, multiple Penn State fraternity members are facing charges including aggravated assault and involuntary manslaughter for failing to get help for a pledge who fell down a flight of stairs following excessive drinking and later died.

While binge drinking may be the most dangerous binge disorder, there are others, including eating and shopping. One psychologist describes these binge activities as "ways of dealing with negative emotions that are not rational or healthy." Repeated bingeing can be caused by stress, anxiety, shame, depression, powerlessness and social isolation.

Many adults wonder what causes young people to indulge in binge drinking to impress their peers or because they feel pressured to do so to fit in, particularly when it means the possibility of being accepted into a sought-after fraternity. Sociocultural pressure can have a strong influence on young people who aren't self-confident. As one clinical psychologist points out, "That pressure to be perfect can definitely lead to anxiety and binge-like behavior."

There's a chemical component to bingeing as well. Consuming sugar (which alcohol is filled with) can make the brain to crave even more. It's an addiction of sorts. Any reward-seeking behavior (even a shopping spree at Lord and Taylor) can make us feel better -- until we get the bill.

If you have a son or daughter going off to college next fall, it's essential to talk to them about the dangers of binge drinking and the potential legal consequences of any underage drinking, whether on or off campus.

Source: Greatist, "The Science Behind Why We Binge (and What to Do About It)," Nick English, accessed May 10, 2017

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