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 things 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 one time a month. Regardless of how often it occurs, consuming large amounts of alcohol 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 years, people 35 and older consume more than half of all binge drinks. Note, though, that when people under 21 drink, the majority do tend to binge. Binge drinking is twice as common among men than among 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.
As common as binge drinking might be, it poses serious health risks. For instance, binge drinking increases the risk of:
Binge drinking also increases a person’s risk of developing long-term medical problems, such as high blood pressure, gastrointestinal problems, weakened immunity, pancreatitis, heart disease, liver disease, stroke, certain types of cancer, depression, and memory problems.
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 this behavior include:
Not all people who binge drink 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 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 drinking and support them with a few of these strategies.
Things you can do to reduce the temptation to binge drink include:
Avoiding alcohol when you tend to binge is challenging because alcohol consumption is so accepted in today’s society. It’s easy to get alcohol and it’s so often a part of social situations. The good news is that there are resources available for those who want 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.