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What Does ‘Binge Drinking’ Mean?
Binge drinking is drinking alcohol quickly in order to get drunk. It is a form of alcohol misuse.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines binge drinking as intentionally drinking enough alcohol to bring a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level to 0.08% or above.2
For men, binge drinking consists of consuming five or more alcoholic drinks within two hours. For women, it’s four or more drinks within two hours.
Here's how The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) defines standard alcoholic drinks:
- A regular 12-ounce beer
- A 5-ounce glass of wine
- A mixed drink with 1.5 ounces of hard liquor
Binge drinking is the most common and deadly form of excessive alcohol consumption in the United States.2
Other binge drinking facts:
- From 2011 to 2015 there were 95,000 alcohol-related deaths. Of that number, nearly half were explicitly due to excessive drinking.6
- According to the National Institutes of Health, 25.8% of Americans have engaged in binge drinking in the past month.14
- Excessive drinking, especially binge drinking, costs the United States $249 billion per year.2 This includes criminal justice costs, healthcare expenditures, and lost productivity.
Why Do People Drink in Excess?
Twenty to 60 percent of cases of drug and alcohol dependence involve mood disorders.11 Those suffering from depression or bipolar disorder may binge drink to self-medicate.
Other people drink to mask the symptoms of addictive or impulsive personalities.5
Binge drinking is most common among young adults of legal drinking age — 20s and early 30s, in particular.2
People in this age range tend to seek new experiences and downplay risks. Young adults are also susceptible to peer pressure.
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How Does Binge Drinking Differ From Heavy Drinking?
Binge drinking is when someone consumes a lot of alcohol quickly in order to get a BAC of at least 0.08%.
Heavy drinking is five or more instances of binge drinking in a month. This is usually 15 or more drinks per week for men; 8 or more weekly for women.
What are the Risks of Binge Drinking?
Binge drinking can lead to a variety of severe health risks. Some of these include:
- Car crashes
- Unintended pregnancy
- Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
- Alcohol poisoning
- Black Outs
- Injuries from falls, car collisions, alcohol poisoning, or burns
- Alcohol use disorder (AUD)
It can also lead to early death. According to the CDC, between 2011 and 2015 there were 95,000 alcohol-related deaths.3
Binge drinking can lead to alcohol use disorder (AUD). AUD is the technical term for alcohol addiction.
Young people can develop alcohol use disorder from binge drinking. Because brain development can last into one’s mid-twenties, young adults who binge drink are at increased risk for developing alcohol use disorder.15
According to the NIAA, 9% of students meet the criteria for AUD.8
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How Does Binge Drinking Impact Health?
Binge drinking leads to a variety of negative health impacts. Binge drinking leads to intoxication. Risks from intoxication increase with the amount of alcohol consumed.
Initial effects of binge drinking include slow reaction times, blurred vision, and reduced coordination. This makes driving a car more dangerous, increasing the risk of accidents.
As a person continues to binge-drink, he may begin to feel more aggressive, increasing the likelihood of fights.
Many people vomit after binge drinking, which can lead to dehydration. A severely drunk person can even choke on their own vomit. Alcohol also disrupts sleep and can worsen depression.
Serious health risks of repeated binge drinking includes alcohol poisoning, coma, and even death.
Chronic illnesses from binge-drinking include:7
- Liver disease
- Various forms of cancer
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
Heavy binge drinking can severely damage the brain. When the brain is exposed to large amounts of alcohol over an extended period, it has trouble forming new brain cells.
Not only does the brain stop maintaining its cells — it can even shrink. The frontal lobes, responsible for voluntary movement, language, and higher-level thinking, are up to 11% smaller in heavy drinkers.17
Atrophy of the cerebellum, which regulates balance and movement, can also occur in binge drinkers. The corpus callosum, an area which links the right and left sides of the brain can also shrink.4
Another area vulnerable to binge drinking is the hippocampus, which is vital for learning and memory. Shrinkage in this area is also strongly linked to Alzheimer's disease.1
A study of Swedish military recruits between 1969 and 1970 found that IQ was inversely correlated with heavy alcohol consumption.13 A study in neighboring Norway found similar results.12
Pregnant women who binge-drink put their children at increased risk for fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Children born with FAS have IQ's well below average.
Alcohol-related brain damage can be reversed to some extent, but complete recovery may not always be possible.16
Does Binge Drinking Mean You’re an Alcoholic?
Most people who binge drink are not alcoholics. Usually binge drinkers are young adults drinking for recreation.
However, binge drinking can be a sign of AUD if it is part of a wider pattern of heavy drinking.
Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder (Alcoholism)
If you or someone you know binge drinks alone, that could be a sign of alcohol dependence or AUD.
Other signs of AUD include:
- Lack of ability to control the amount of alcohol consumed
- Neglecting important obligations in order to drink
- Heavy drinking
- High tolerance for alcohol
- Withdrawal symptoms, including nausea, sweating, and shaking
How to Prevent Binge Drinking
If binge drinking is part of a larger pattern of heavy drinking, it may be time to cut down on your alcohol consumption.
If you want to stop binge drinking, you should seek help from loved ones and consult a doctor for advice. You should also consider quitting alcohol altogether.
Tips for Quitting Binge Drinking
Some tips for quitting binge drinking include:
- Change your environment — It may be that stress or peer pressure is influencing you to binge drink.
- Find new hobbies — If you drink alcohol for recreation, consider replacing that with healthier options like exercise, sports, or volunteering.
- Reach out to family and friends — It is vital to have a support network to help you during your recovery journey.
- Consider addiction treatment — Inability to control alcohol use is a sign of alcohol use disorder.
- Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) — Drugs such as Naltrexone, Acamprosate, Metadoxine, and Disulfiram have been approved by the FDA to help reduce drinking.