Binge Drinking in Teens
Illinois is on the right trail to stop teen drinking

Dan Dawson
Prevention Educator University of Illinois Extensionn

Binge drinking used to mean drinking heavily over several days. Now, however, the term refers to the heavy consumption of alcohol over a short period of time. Today the generally accepted definition of binge drinking in the United States is the consumption of five or more drinks in a row by men and four or more drinks in a row by women – at least once in the previous two weeks. Heavy binge drinking includes three or more such episodes in two weeks.

Liquor stores, bars and alcoholic companies make drinking seem attractive and fun. It’s easy for a high school student to get caught up in a social scene with lots of peer pressure. Inevitably, one of the biggest areas of peer pressure is drinking.

Other reasons why teens binge drink include: They are curious – they want to know what it’s like to drink alcohol. They believe that it will make them feel good; not realizing it could just as easily make them sick and hung-over. They may look at alcohol as a way to reduce stress, even though it can end up creating more stress. And they want to feel older.

Most teens do not think about the negative side of binge drinking, but from the obvious side affects such as hangovers, there are more serious and longer lasting risks involved as well. Alcohol poisoning is a life threatening consequence of binge drinking. It affects the body’s involuntary reflexes – including breathing, the gag reflex, inability to be awakened, seizures, slow or irregular breathing, low body temperature and/or bluish or pale skin. If you think someone has alcohol poisoning, call 911 immediately.

Binge drinking impairs judgment, so drinkers are more likely to take risks they may not when they are sober. Driving while intoxicated is an obvious risk, but it isn’t the only motor skill impaired. Walking is also more difficult and in a recent study, roughly one third of pedestrians 16 and older who were killed in traffic accidents were intoxicated.

Despite laws in every state that make it illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to purchase or possess alcohol, young people report that alcohol is easy to obtain and that many high school and college students drink with one goal – to get drunk.

The Governor’s office recently introduced the TrAIL (Tracking Alcohol in IL) and Don’t Be Sorry programs. Funded through a traffic safety grant from the Illinois Department of Transportation, this Illinois Liquor Control Commission initiative is designed to target alcohol sources in underage drinking-related fatalities and injuries. To complement the increased law enforcement in these counties, the Governor’s office will also expand the state’s Don’t Be Sorry campaign to educate teens, parents and liquor retailers on the consequences of underage drinking and providing alcohol to minors.

Under the TrAIL program, a special investigation is conducted when underage alcohol consumption is suspected in an incident, such as a car accident, underage drinking party, alcohol poisoning, sexual assault or other events that result in injury or death. If the above criteria are met, first responding officers will call a 24-hour hotline number to deploy a TrAIL investigator, who will assist in the collection of evidence and determine where the alcohol was purchased or served.

The TrAIL program has been activated in the following counties in Illinois: Kendall, Kane, McHenry, Sangamon, Jackson, Whiteside, Carroll and JoDaviess.

More information

For more information about TrAIL or the Don’t Be Sorry campaign, please contact Ted Penesis at 312-814-4802 or You can also visit: or

Also, for more information on preventing teenage substance abuse visit Illinois’ Drug Prevention Resource – Prevention First at:, or call 800-252-8951.

Dan Dawson, Prevention Educator, University of Illinois Extension, Springfield
Extension Center, 217-782-6515, or