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Binge drinking is a pattern of excessive alcohol use. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines it as drinking to the point that your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) reaches .08 grams or higher.
For the average male, this requires five drinks or more in approximately two hours. Women metabolize alcohol differently than men, so they might need only four drinks in that same two-hour span to reach a BAC of .08%.
Binge drinking is sometimes associated with feeling unable to stop drinking, blacking out during or after drinking, and acting violently or taking dangerous risks. These factors aren’t required to classify an event as a binge. Although, binge drinking increases these risks and could be an indication of an alcohol problem.
Binge drinking doesn’t necessarily happen on a consistent basis, nor does it need to happen once a month. Regardless of how often it occurs, consuming many alcoholic beverages within a short period of time has negative effects on your health.
Binge drinking is sometimes considered a younger person’s activity, but it affects people of all ages. Though alcohol binges tend to be more common among adults aged 18 to 34, people 35 and older consume more than half of all binge drinks.
Binge drinking is twice as common among men than women. Four in five total binge drinks are consumed by men.
Approximately one in six adults binge drinks as often as four times per month.
When people under 21 drink, the majority tend to binge. Underage drinking increases a teen's risk of developing alcoholism over time, especially if they binge drink often. Alcohol also negatively impacts the developing brain, which can lead to cognitive problems and mental health issues over time.
As common as binge drinking might be, it poses serious health risks. For instance, binge drinking increases the risk of:
Binge drinking and heavy drinking increase a person’s risk of developing long-term medical problems, including:
Everyone is different and it’s impossible to list all of the reasons someone might choose to binge drink. Some of the most common causes of binge drinking include:
Not all binge drinkers are alcoholics, but the behavior increases a person’s risk of developing alcohol addiction. Studies have shown people who binge drink at a young age are three times more likely to develop alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder, as adults.
There are things you can do to avoid binge drinking or stop altogether if it’s currently a part of your life. Not every strategy will work for every person, so it’s important to reflect on what causes you to binge drink and consider which strategies will most benefit you.
If a friend or family member is struggling with binge drinking, it can help to discuss with them their reasons for excessive drinking. You can also support them by using a few of the strategies below.
Things you can do to reduce the temptation to binge drink include:
Avoiding alcohol when you tend to binge is challenging because heavy alcohol use is accepted in today’s society. However, there are resources available for those who need support.
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“Drinking Levels Defined | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).” Nih.Gov, 2017, www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/moderate-binge-drinking.
“CDC - Fact Sheets-Binge Drinking - Alcohol.” CDC.Gov, 2019, www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/binge-drinking.htm.Guarnotta, Emily. “How to Stop Binge Drinking | Understanding Binge Drinking.” Recovery.Org, 29 July 2016, www.recovery.org/alcohol-treatment/binge-drinking/. Accessed 9 Jan. 2020.