What is Binge Drinking?

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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.

Who Binge Drinks?

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.

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Binge Drinking Effects

As common as binge drinking might be, it poses serious health risks. For instance, binge drinking increases the risk of:

  • Vehicle accidents
  • Unintentional injuries from falls, burns, and other causes
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • "Blackouts"
  • Hangovers
  • Poor decision making
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Violence and sexual assault
  • Unintended pregnancy
  • Miscarriage and stillbirth
  • Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders
  • Sudden infant death syndrome
  • Alcohol dependence

Health Problems

Binge drinking and heavy drinking increase a person’s risk of developing long-term medical problems, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Renal issues
  • Weakened immunity
  • Pancreatitis
  • Heart disease
  • Heart attack
  • Liver disease
  • Cirrhosis
  • Stroke
  • Certain types of cancer
  • Depression
  • Menstrual problems in women
  • Infertility in men
  • Memory problems
  • Mental health issues, such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, and depression

Causes of Binge Drinking

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:

  • It’s fun. Alcoholic drinks lower social inhibitions and often occurs at parties where people want to let loose and forget their troubles.
  • It gives a false sense of confidence. People who are usually too shy or who lack the confidence to socialize tend to feel better when drinking. Drinking can help a person feel stronger, sexier, and better about themselves – at least temporarily.
  • It attracts attention. Consuming large quantities of alcohol, especially for men, might result in admiration from friends. This is especially true for younger drinkers.
  • It’s a way to forget their problems. People binge drink for the same reason people drink any amount of alcohol – they want to relax. But people who binge drink to escape life’s challenges are especially susceptible to developing alcohol addiction.
  • It’s what everyone else is doing. Peer pressure is one of the most common reasons why people overdrink, especially when they are young or inexperienced drinkers.
  • It’s rebellious. Young drinkers tend to use alcohol as a way of breaking rules or asserting their independence from their parents. This is one of the reasons binge drinking is so common on college campuses. Kids are experiencing their life away from their parents for the first time and they want to shatter their previous boundaries.

Is Binge Drinking Considered Alcoholism?

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.

How to Stop Binge Drinking

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:

  • Avoid environments where drinking occurs. Consider where, when, and with whom you tend to drink and avoid those situations until you feel your drinking is under control. It might help to not drink at all for a while or to set specific boundaries on drinking, such as one drink per week.
  • Find motivation to not drink and remind yourself of it frequently. Maybe you want to stop drinking to improve your health or maybe you’ve been hurtful to loved ones while drinking. Make a list of reasons you want to avoid binge drinking and keep it close. This way you can refer to it when you’re tempted to drink.
  • Reward yourself when you don’t drink. Make sure you are giving yourself credit for your accomplishments and finding ways to enjoy life without alcohol.
  • Ask for your family and friends to support your effort not to drink. Being vulnerable about your drinking can be uncomfortable, but you’re more likely to succeed when you have support.
  • If drinking is linked to other issues and you use alcohol as an escape, consider support or therapy. It’s common for people dealing with anxiety, depression, stress, and other issues to turn to alcohol. Working with a counselor can help you identify your binge triggers and find healthier ways to deal with your negative feelings.

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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Resources +

“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.

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