The Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, when he wrote his recent guidance on alcohol for children, young people and their parents talked alot about binge drinking, but didn’t define binge drinking differently for children or young people.
Both children and young adolescents weigh substantially less than adults and likely would achieve considerably higher BACs (blood alcohol concentrations) with five drinks within a two-hour period or would reach a BAC greater than 0.08 g/dL with significantly fewer drinks.
This adds up to a recommendation that a binge should be defined in the following ways:
- three or more drinks for 9- to 13-year-old children;
- four or more drinks for boys and three or more drinks for girls ages 14 or 15; and
- five or more drinks for boys and three or more drinks for girls ages 16 or 17.
They also suggest that what constitutes heavy drinking should be revised downward.
The paper points out:
Intake of fewer drinks than these at each age should not be considered safe, however.
The paper goes on to say:
Given the opportunistic nature of children’s drinking, these results likely underestimate actual BACs at each intake level, because children, like college students, are likely to pour larger than standard drinks. These figures likely overestimate BACs at each intake level for children in countries that use smaller standard drink sizes (eg, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand).
The paper concludes that there are a number of limitations to the research – the main one being that, for obvious ethical reasons, it is based on theory rather than by testing on children. They warn:
Therefore, these estimates should be considered theoretical and should not be used in pediatric forensic applications. They are at best heuristic approximations developed to advocate against the use of adult operational definitions of hazardous alcohol use in the younger population.