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Binge drinking may conjure an image of a drunken party in a college frat house. The reality is, however, that binge drinking can occur in many environments, from relaxing in the bar with friends to socializing at a business dinner to golfing with friends. Binge drinking is often a means of unwinding and socializing with others; however, it has potential consequences that are important to keep in mind.
Binge drinking is consuming an excessive amount of alcohol in a short period of time. On average, binge drinking involves four or more drinks for a woman and five or more drinks for a man in a two-hour period. The number of drinks will vary depending on several factors, but any amount that leads to a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 percent or greater is considered binge drinking.
While counting drinks is a good idea, it is important to bear in mind that a standard drink varies between different alcoholic beverages. A standard drink is about:
When binge drinking, the quantity of drinks rapidly increases the BAC, or the amount of alcohol present in a person’s bloodstream. Binge drinking will bring the BAC to 0.08 percent or above, which can increase the risk of accidents, impaired judgment and alcohol poisoning.
Binge drinking is different for everyone, and many different factors may influence a single individual. Several potential causes of binge drinking include:
Contrary to the common perception, binge drinking isn’t just an issue limited to college students or fraternities. It can occur at any age. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in six U.S. adults binge drinks, and 25% of these adults binge drink at least once a week. While it’s most common among adults aged 18–34 years, almost half of the binge drinking is by those aged 35 and older. These statistics show that this issue is not confined to younger age groups.
Binge drinking can lead to a host of harmful consequences, both physically and mentally. These effects can be particularly potent over the short term; however, repeated binge drinking leads to long-term effects.
Binge drinking raises alcohol levels in the blood quickly, causing stress and strain on the body. This leads to immediate health consequences. While a single episode of binge drinking has a low likelihood of creating long-term health complications, repeated binge drinking will have long-term effects.
In the short term, binge drinking can lead to:
Over time, multiple periods of high levels of alcohol in the blood from binge drinking can add up, eventually leading to serious health problems. These may include:
Binge drinking and mental health problems are interrelated. Frequent binge drinking can increase the likelihood of mental health issues, and an underlying mental illness can increase the likelihood that someone will binge drink. Some of the mental illnesses caused by binge drinking or that encourage binge drinking include:
Binge drinking is particularly problematic in those who have a mental health condition, as it is often very difficult to treat interrelated alcohol addiction and mental illness.
Aside from health issues, binge drinking can also have significant social and societal costs. These can range from more minor problems like strained relationships with friends and family to legal problems arising from drunk driving or other uninhibited behaviors. Additionally, alcohol is often a factor in violent crimes, both contributing to people being perpetrators and victims of crime. Financially, the economic costs of excessive drinking were estimated to be $249 billion in the United States in 2010.
Yes, binge drinking can lead to death. While this is primarily caused by alcohol poisoning, death can also occur due to injuries, accidents or even homicide.
Alcohol poisoning is a common cause of death associated with binge drinking and almost always requires binge drinking to happen. It occurs when someone consumes a very large amount of alcohol in a short time, slowing the body’s functions drastically. This can lead to seizures, unconsciousness, slow or irregular breathing, and eventually, death. In the United States, an average of six people die from alcohol poisoning each day, with almost all of these deaths caused by binge drinking.
Not sure whether you engage in excessive drinking? Consider these ten warning signs.
1. You are often late to work — or late on projects, late for meetings or miss appointments. Binge drinking can dull the mind long after the alcohol wears off, especially if you frequently find yourself at the bar at the end of your shift and/or on the weekends. Many binge drinkers have a hard time staying alert, managing their tasks while at work and being on time to work, especially after the weekend.
2. You keep making promises to people but forget about them. While under the influence, you may make plans or say things that you later forget, have to apologize for or can’t follow through on. After you sober up, you may make promises to better manage your behavior while under the influence or your drinking levels in the future, but you later break those promises.
3. You hide alcohol — in the car, in the bathroom or behind the shelf in your office. Hiding alcohol is a sign of alcohol misuse. If you’re trying to drink at work, during family activities or at any time where it wouldn’t be appropriate and have to hide the alcohol so you don’t get caught, it’s clear that there’s likely something wrong.
4. You lie about how much you drank or whether or not you are drunk. Similarly, if you’re telling people that you’ve only had one drink when you’ve refilled your wine glass several times, or if you say that you’re not drunk when you are, it is a strong indicator that at least subconsciously, you recognize you are drinking too much.
5. You’ve driven under the influence or have even gotten into a wreck after drinking and driving. There’s no good reason to get behind the wheel while buzzed, drunk or under the influence of any substance. If you’ve driven drunk or have gotten into an accident due to this choice, you are taking your life into your own hands — and the lives of everyone else around you.
6. You are struggling with health issues due to drinking. Alcohol is a toxin, and overuse of the substance can wear on your body and contribute to the development of a range of chronic disorders, including certain types of cancer and heart disease. Binge drinking is just as damaging to the body as heavy drinking. Even if you go days without drinking, if you binge drink regularly, it takes a toll.
7. You have a hard time managing your weight because of alcohol. Alcohol is full of calories, and many people who binge drink struggle with extra weight due to the high intake of alcohol’s sugary carbs. If you do not struggle with extra weight but significantly limit your intake of food on the days when you know you are going to drink, this disordered eating habit can also signify a need for help.
8. You often feel run down, get sick easily or feel achy when you aren’t drinking. Recuperating from binge drinking can take some time, and chronic binge drinking can mean that you feel extremely rundown for days in between drinking sessions. You also may be more likely to succumb to viruses and have a harder time beating any acute illness or injury when you binge drink frequently.
9. You have a tendency toward violent or impulsive behavior when you drink. It’s not uncommon for people who binge drink to “blackout” while they are under the influence and engage in behaviors that they do not remember or only remember in part the next day. Unfortunately, these behaviors may be self-harming, embarrassing or endanger or harm others. If you are unable to manage them, it’s a clear sign that help is necessary.
10. You’ve tried to stop drinking but having “just one” or avoiding drinking altogether has proved impossible. If you recognize that the impact binge drinking is having on your life is anything but positive, and you’ve attempted to limit yourself to just one or two drinks in a sitting or have tried to stop drinking completely but have been unsuccessful, treatment can help.
If you or someone you know is struggling to prevent binge drinking, the best option is often to stop using alcohol altogether. Most people who binge drink find it difficult to simply cut back; however, this may be an option for some.
If you struggle with binge drinking, there are several strategies that you can try to help you cut back:
Binge drinking often happens when moderating alcohol use becomes difficult. If trying to moderate your drinking doesn’t help, you should seriously consider trying to stop alcohol altogether.
If you or someone you know binge drinks and is finding it difficult to cut back, we want you to know you are not alone. At The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake, we have helped numerous individuals achieve the benefits of a life without alcohol addiction.
We want to help you and offer comprehensive substance abuse treatment programs that can help you get the support and guidance you need to stop drinking, manage cravings and start living a healthier life. Contact a Recovery Advocate today to take the first step toward lasting freedom from alcohol addiction.
Because alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous – and even kill you – make sure you have medical advice from your doctor or a rehab facility when you decide to stop drinking.
There are many misconceptions about alcoholism that make it sound like an alcoholic is an easy person to spot, however, many alcoholics function effectively and lead relatively normal lives.
An alcohol abuse problem can include binge drinking, having negative consequences such as hangovers with your drinking but continuing anyway, and drinking despite the desire to stop.
In a recent study by The Recovery Village, 44% of respondents reported abusing alcohol in an attempt to ease uncomfortable feelings that stem from underlying anxiety.
Drinking more than three drinks in a single sitting will temporarily cause your blood pressure to rise, but extended binge drinking or regular alcohol consumption can cause a permanent increase in blood pressure.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “What Is A Standard Drink?” 2023. Accessed May 26, 2023.
Centers for Disease and Prevention. “Alcohol Use and Your Health.” April 14, 2022. Accessed May 26, 2023.
Centers for Disease and Prevention. “Binge Drinking.” November 14, 2022. Accessed May 26, 2023.
Centers for Disease and Prevention. “Excessive Drinking is Draining the U.S. Economy.” April 14, 2022. Accessed May 26, 2023.
Centers for Disease and Prevention. “Alcohol Poisoning Deaths.” January 6, 2015. Accessed May 26, 2023.
MedlinePlus. “Alcohol use disorder.” January 1, 2018. Accessed May 26, 2023.
The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.
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