Binge drinking vs. Social drinking

Last night I heard Tim Burns talk about brain development in the adolescent years. He also went into some detail about how drug and alcohol use affects the brain. For the most part, I liked what he had to say. He was an interesting and effective speaker.

But here is where I am concerned about his message:

He talked about the extreme negative implications of binge drinking. The depressing effect of large amounts of alcohol (generally more than four or five drinks) has something of a whiplash effect on the brain as it’s wearing off. That burns through lots of brain cells. Clearly, that’s very, very bad.

However, Burns added some nuance to that message by saying that what he termed “social drinking,” or having only one drink, is generally fine, and may even have positive physiological effects. But that’s a message that I’m just not comfortable with. Teenagers’ first sexual experience is often associated with some alcohol use – but not necessarily binge drinking. And losing your virginity is just never improved by the presence of even small amounts of alcohol.

So while I appreciate that social drinking doesn’t necessarily have negative physiological effects, if we’re talking about nuances, we should also discuss how even social drinking can impair teenager’s social decision making. And that leaves them open to sexual experiences they wouldn’t choose to have sober.

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.


  1. It’s illegal for teenagers to drink any alcohol unless their parents are present, physiological effects aside. So all they have to do is obey the law.

    (Reminds me of the time I was 18 and my parents took me out to dinner and I ordered a strawberry daquiri, which order the waitress took without batting an eyelash, and then my mom screamed, “SHE’S EIGHTEEN, AND SHE’S WITH HER PARENTS!” Probably ruined my chances with every potential sexual partner in the restaurant. Hmm.)

  2. Oh, but yeah, even just one drink can affect your behavioral choices, I certainly agree with that.

  3. Erhrm. I meant to say that while it probably can be a symptom of alcoholism, I don’t think the habit of a beer or two at night is necessarily a symptom of alcoholism; it could just be one person’s way of winding down, like taking a bubble bath. (Bubblebathaholism?)

  4. Actually, I was under the impression that it was illegal for teens to drink any alcohol under the age of 21, regardless of whether or not their parents are present.

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