As we’re all aware, it’s legal to drink in the U.S. at 21, with thanks to the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984. But that’s not stopping the younger set from imbibing—and often to excess. As college student Brandie,explained, “Everybody’s aim is to get drunk on the weekends. It’s not about the taste of alcohol. It’s about the lowered inhibitions.”

Said another university student, “Part of the thrill is you don’t know where the night is going to take you.” And wherever it takes them, overdoing alcohol apparently gives kids a built-in excuse for the regrettable. In other words, “The booze made me do it . . .”

So what exactly is binge drinking? It’s defined as having four or more drinks in one sitting for women and five or more for men. And though not as rampant as in years past, it’s still fairly widespread, standing now at 15.8% of 12- to 20-year olds.

Couple that with these findings from the CDC:

  1. More than 25% of high school students and adults, 18 to 34, binge drinks, and 60% of high schoolers who drink do so at binge levels.
  2. One in 5 high school girls binge drink.
  3. About 90% of alcohol consumption by the under-21 set is in the form of bingeing.
  4. One in six American adults is a binge drinker, consuming on average 8 drinks in one sitting, and doing so about four times a month.
  5. Men are 23% likelier to binge drink than women at 11.4%

Meanwhile, vomiting, blacking out, and skipping classes aren’t the only repercussions. Health problems result, too, including alcohol poisoning, liver disease, sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancies, and accidents. Indeed, binge drinking is the third leading cause of death in the U.S., causing more than 4,700 deaths of those 21 and younger annually.

Not surprisingly, parents play a role in all of this. In fact, a study by Demos, a think tank in the United Kingdom, found that parenting style has a major influence on the drinking habits of their young. The optimum: a combination of “tough love, discipline, and consistent warmth” over the years.

According to the report:

  • “Poor parenting when children are 10 years old doubles their chances of over-drinking when they are 34.
  • Poor parenting when children are 16 increases their chances of over-drinking at age 16 eightfold.
  • Poor parenting when children are 16 doubles their chances of over-drinking when they are 34.”

Says lead author Jamie Bartlett, “The enduring impact of parenting on a child’s future relationship with alcohol cannot be ignored. This is good for parents: those difficult moments of enforcing tough rules really do make a difference, even it if doesn’t feel like that at the time.”

And all the while, be on guard for the unexpected. Just take, for example, the recent case in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania of William Lichtner, a former girls’ cross country coach at Hatboro-Horsham Senior High School, who supplied one of his athletes with alcohol on at least eight occasions—at her request. A violation of trust all around and one that should make all parents uneasy.