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.

What Is Binge Drinking?

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:

  • 12 ounces of regular beer
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits

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.

Why Do People Binge Drink?

Binge drinking is different for everyone, and many different factors may influence a single individual. Several potential causes of binge drinking include:

  • Situational pressure: Binge drinking often occurs in social situations, where there’s a pressure to fit in or keep up with others. This can make it particularly difficult for people to stop at just one or two drinks and encourage them to drink more heavily than they would on their own.
  • Stress: Some people use alcohol as a way to cope with stress or negative emotions. While one or two drinks may help, binge drinking can provide a stronger sense of escape from these feelings.
  • Accessibility: When someone has easy access to alcohol or can afford to drink more, the likelihood of binge drinking can increase. This is especially relevant in environments such as college campuses.
  • Culture or environment: Someone who lives in a culture or environment where drinking is common may be more likely to binge drink as a way of fitting in with the norms or expectations of those around them.

Who Binge Drinks?

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.

Effects of Binge Drinking

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.

What Does Binge Drinking Do to the Body?

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.

Short-Term Health Effects of Binge Drinking

In the short term, binge drinking can lead to:

  • Alcohol poisoning: Consuming large amounts of alcohol in a short period can overwhelm the body’s ability to process the alcohol, leading to toxic levels in the bloodstream.
  • Injuries: Binge drinking causes impaired coordination and judgment. This can lead to falls, burns, car accidents and other injuries while intoxicated.
  • Risky behavior: Impaired judgment caused by binge drinking can lead to risky behaviors, such as unprotected sex or spontaneously deciding to break the law.
  • Pregnancy complications: Binge drinking during pregnancy can increase the risk of birth defects and other pregnancy complications.
  • Blackouts: Binge drinking can cause blackouts, or periods of amnesia where the drinker can’t remember periods of time. These can last from a few minutes to several hours.
  • Physical problems: Binge drinking can lead to physical health problems, even in the short term, like nausea, vomiting and hangovers.

Long-Term Health Effects of Binge Drinking

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:

  • Liver disease: Heavy drinking can lead to alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis and other liver problems. These problems can sometimes be reversible but become permanent over time.
  • Heart disease: Chronic heavy drinking can lead to elevated blood pressure and is a risk factor for several different types of cardiovascular diseases.
  • Cancer: Heavy alcohol consumption over a prolonged period of time is linked to an increased risk of several types of cancer, including mouth, esophagus, liver and breast cancer.

How Does Binge Drinking Affect Mental Wellness?

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: 

  • Alcohol use disorder (AUD)
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Psychosis
  • Suicidal thoughts and behavior
  • Social isolation
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

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.

What Are the Social Consequences of Binge Drinking?

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.

Can Binge Drinking Cause Death?

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.

How Do I Know If I Have a Binge Drinking Problem? 10 Warning Signs

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.

How To Prevent Binge Drinking

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.

Manage Your Alcohol Intake

If you struggle with binge drinking, there are several strategies that you can try to help you cut back:

  • Set and stick to drinking goals: Decide how many drinks you’ll have before you start drinking. Make sure others know you’ve committed to a limit, then stick with it.
  • Choose lower-alcohol drinks: Choose drinks with a lower alcohol content to limit the amount of alcohol you’re consuming. This helps you to use alcohol more slowly.
  • Keep track while drinking: Use standard drink measures and keep track while drinking. Don’t just rely on your memory; actually write down how many drinks you’ve had somewhere so you don’t accidentally drink more than you realized.
  • Alternate with non-alcoholic drinks: For every alcoholic drink, have a glass of water or a non-alcoholic beverage. This not only reduces the amount of alcohol you consume but also helps prevent dehydration and might reduce your chances of developing a hangover.
  • Eat before and during drinking: Never drink on an empty stomach. Food slows down the rate at which your body absorbs alcohol and can help reduce the rapid increase in blood alcohol levels that drinking can cause.
  • Learn to refuse drinks: It’s okay to say no if you’re offered a drink and you’ve reached your limit or don’t want to drink. Saying no might be hard at first, but practicing refusing can help.

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.

Seek Treatment for Binge Drinking

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.

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Editor – Abby Doty
Abby Doty graduated from Hamline University in 2021 with a Bachelor's in English and Psychology. She has written and edited creative and literary work as well as academic pieces focused primarily on psychology and mental health. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Benjamin Caleb Williams, RN
Benjamin Caleb Williams is a board-certified Emergency Nurse with several years of clinical experience, including supervisory roles within the ICU and ER settings. Read more

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.

Medical Disclaimer

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.