Why are drinking games dangerous?
Drinking games can mean drinking a lot, quickly, putting you at risk of accidents and alcohol poisoning.
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Although they are something that many people experience when growing up, drinking games are far from being harmless fun. Taking part could mean you end up drinking a lot more than you intend, more quickly, increasing your risk of accidents and alcohol poisoning – which can be fatal.
Read on to find out more about why drinking games can be dangerous, and how to stay in control.
Any kind of drinking game - whether it’s based on gambling, chance, a ‘forfeit’ for breaking rules, or a competition – can mean people those taking part drink more than they want, faster than they intend. If you take part in one, you’re giving up control over how much alcohol you drink – and the risks increase the more you drink.
Drinking games are common among young adults, with peer pressure to fit in commonly given as a reason for taking part.
Drinkaware research from 20191 found that 60% of 18-34 year-olds believe peer pressure to drink is common among them, with this age group also the most likely to say they have drunk more than they expected to ‘keep up’ with others (47% said they had done this). But, as we’re social creatures, peer pressure can affect anyone of any age.
And if drinking games are played as part of ‘pre-loading’ (drinking before going out) they are associated with higher levels of alcohol consumption, and greater risk.2 Find out more on our binge drinking page.
Drinking alcohol very quickly – whether as part of a drinking game or not - can lead to acute alcohol poisoning, which can be extremely dangerous.
There is no minimum amount of alcohol that can cause alcohol poisoning. It depends on a person’s age, sex, size, weight, how fast they have been drinking, how much they have eaten, their general health and whether they have taken medication or drugs.
Tragically, acute alcohol poisoning was the cause of 552 deaths in the UK during 2020.3
If you recognise the symptoms of alcohol poisoning – which include confusion, vomiting or seizures – call 999 immediately – you could save someone’s life.
Drinking alcohol impairs your judgement, balance and coordination4 making it more likely you will be involved in an accident, with the risk increasing the more you drink.
And the way that alcohol suppresses activity in parts of the brain associated with inhibition5 means you’re more likely to make a decision you regret, whether this means walking home alone, having unprotected sex, or not being able to look out for friends, drinking games present real dangers.
Binge drinking increases the likelihood of both becoming aggressive or angry and also a victim of violence, including sexual violence and domestic abuse.6
Alcohol and aggression
Peer pressure in social situations around drinking games can affect anyone. Try these tips to stay in control.
If you’re worried you might be talked into a drink when you don’t want to, plan ahead for those moments and think about what you want to say. Combatting peer pressure means sticking to your guns in the moment – it might be hard, but it’s worthwhile.
One in ten 18-34 year old drinkers say they’ve lost a friendship because of the pressure from someone – or the pressure they’ve put on someone – to drink alcohol. Speaking up might help someone else, as well as yourself.7
Nearly one in six 16- to 24-year-olds in the UK (16%) say they don’t drink at all8 – it can be a great choice to have an active social life.
Opting out of a drinking game will lower your risk of alcohol poisoning. It could also help you avoid a hangover, or making a decision you might regret – like texting an ex- or behaving in embarrassing ways that’ll be all over social media the next morning.
Drinking games can be very expensive – buying huge rounds at the bar can rapidly burn through your money. Put the money you save towards a treat for yourself.
The UK Chief Medical Officers’ (CMO) low risk drinking guidelines recommend you should limit the total amount of alcohol you drink on any single occasion. You can also keep your short-term risks low by drinking more slowly, drinking with food, alternating any alcoholic drinks with water and planning ahead to avoid problems.
Getting involved in drinking games can seriously speed up the rate you drink so you’re more likely to exceed the guidelines.
The long-term risks of alcohol-related health problems also mean the CMOs recommend that it’s safest for both men and women to drink no more than 14 units a week, spread over three or more days with several drink-free days, and no bingeing.
Following the low risk drinking guidelines and avoiding drinking games can help keep your risk low from accidents and injuries, physical or sexual abuse, alcohol poisoning and a range of long-term health conditions – including seven types of cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes liver disease and mental health problems.
 Gan, G., Guevara, A., Marxen, M., Neumann, M., Jünger, E., Kobiella, A., Mennigen, E., Pilhatsch, M., Schwarz, D., Zimmermann, U.S. and Smolka, M.N. (2014). Alcohol-induced impairment of inhibitory control is linked to attenuated brain responses in right fronto-temporal cortex. Biological Psychiatry, 76(9), 698-707.
 Taylor, B., Irving, H.M., Kanteres, F., Room, R., Borges, G., Cherpitel, C., Greenfield, T. and Rehm, J. (2010). The more you drink, the harder you fall: a systematic review and meta-analysis of how acute alcohol consumption and injury or collision risk increase together. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 110(1-2), 108-116.
 Sundin, E., Landberg, J., Galanti, M. R., Room, R., & Ramstedt, M. (2022). Country-Level Heavy Episodic Drinking and Individual-Level Experiences of Harm from Others' Drinking-Related Aggression in 19 European Countries. European addiction research, 28(2), 134–142. https://doi.org/10.1159/000520079
Last Reviewed: 26th April 2023
Next Review due: 26th April 2026