What Is Binge Drinking?

Learn about binge drinking, the side effects, health risks, and prevention methods. Additionally, learn about potential treatment options.

Defining Binge Drinking

Binge Drinking

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in six US adults reports they engage in binge drinking, with 25% doing so weekly. In addition, binge drinking occurs most frequently in young adults between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five. While binge drinking is usually not the result of alcohol use disorder, it is still a costly behavior that increases the risk of developing diseases, alcohol addiction, and even death.

Unfortunately, binge drinking does not receive as much attention as other substance abuse behaviors. Thus, many are unaware of how dangerous binge drinking can be. So, what exactly is binge drinking disorder, and what are the dangers of binge drinking?

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What Is Binge Drinking?

Binge drinking, or binge drinking disorder, occurs when a person consumes large volumes of alcohol in a short period (usually two hours), enough to raise their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to at least 0.08%. How quickly the body absorbs alcohol depends on a few factors, such as age, gender, and body size. For example, it typically takes women four or more drinks and men five or more drinks to reach a BAC of 0.08% within two hours.

Binge drinking disorder is not specifically classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as a medical condition; however, it is considered alcohol misuse and may lead to an alcohol use disorder diagnosis.

What Constitutes a Drink?

As mentioned above, binge drinking alcoholism is defined as consuming large amounts of alcohol in a short amount of time, reaching BAC levels of 0.08% and above. But what exactly is a “drink?”
Note that the amount of liquid in a can, cup, or bottle does not always correspond to the amount of alcohol being consumed. This is because the alcohol concentrations vary among different drink types, such as wine, beer, and spirits. So, the alcoholic content of a cup of wine will differ from that of a cup of beer.

In the United States, a standard drink has around 14 grams of pure alcohol. Let’s take a look at what a standard drink for each type of alcohol is equal to:

  • 12 ounces of regular beer, typically about 5% alcohol
  • 5 ounces of wine, typically about 12% alcohol
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, typically about 40% alcohol

How Common Is Binge Drinking?

According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), sixty-six million (24%) people aged twelve and older in the US reported binge drinking. Binge drinking occurs in most age groups, some more prevalent than others. The 2019 NSDUH found the following:

  • Between the ages of twelve and seventeen, 4.9% reported binge drinking
  • Between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two, 27.7% who do not attend college full time and 33% who do attend college full time reported binge drinking
  • For older adults aged sixty-five and over, more than 10% reported binge drinking

Binge Drinking Signs

Several binge drinking symptoms can occur while engaging in this behavior and after. Recognizing the following signs may help indicate binge drinking, so it is important to take note of them:

 

  • Having four or five drinks in less than two hours
  • Excessive alcohol consumption on weekends or at social gatherings
  • Overindulging in alcohol to the point of blackout
  • Consuming more alcohol than intended
  • Engaging in regretful behaviors while inebriated
  • Feeling sleepy or hungover after binge drinking
  • Being concerned or feeling guilty about binge drinking

If you or someone you know experiences binge drinking symptoms and signs, seek help as soon as possible to reduce the risks of binge drinking.

Types of Binge Drinking

Binge drinking can occur due to a variety of reasons and causes. Therefore, there are different types of binge drinking:

Stress-Related Binge Drinking

Many people use alcohol as a coping mechanism for managing stressful situations and pressures. Stressors may be brought on by anything, such as work, home, school, or personal situations.

Social Binge Drinking

People may engage in binge drinking to fit in with a particular social group. For example, social binge drinking could involve drinking with colleagues after work hours, drinking with strangers in a bid to make more friends, or being the result of peer pressure.

Boredom-Related Binge Drinking

In certain circumstances, people engage in binge drinking to pass the time and stimulate themselves.

Mood-Related Binge Drinking

Aside from stress, binge drinking might also be a coping method for other mood-related issues. For example, alleviating emotions of grief or worry or trying to cope with symptoms of depression or anxiety.

Binge Drinking Side Effects, Health Risks, and Prevention

Binge drinking can lead to short-term and long-term side effects and health risks, ranging from mild to severe. These consequences of binge drinking may even be fatal, so it is imperative always to be mindful of the amounts of alcohol being consumed at any given time and actively engage in binge drinking prevention methods.
binge drinking symptoms 

Short-Term Effects of Binge Drinking

There are several short-term binge drinking effects that are commonly seen in binge drinking. Some of these short-term effects of binge drinking include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Upset stomach and diarrhea
  •  Alcohol poisoning
  • Loss of coordination and perception
There are also some short-term physical effects of binge drinking, such as injuries and violence.

Long-Term Effects of Binge Drinking

As mentioned, the consequences of binge drinking are not only observable in the short term. Instead, the harmful effects can also occur due to binge drinking over a long period. Long term effects of binge drinking include the following:
  • Weakened or reduced immunity
  • Predisposition to liver diseases, such as hepatitis and cirrhosis of the liver
  • Cardiovascular problems, including high blood pressure and heart disease
  • Mouth, throat, esophagus, breast, liver, and colon cancer
  • Mental health problems, including depression and anxiety
  • Social problems, such as unemployment and family issues

Risks of Binge Drinking

Binge drinking has been associated with several risks and consequences ranging in severity. These risks can affect a person physically or mentally, or both. The risks of binge drinking include the following:
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Impaired judgment
  • Physical health
  • Mental health
  • Death

Binge Drinking Prevention

The dangers and negative effects of binge drinking are evident, so it is important to know how to prevent these risks. Here are a couple of ways to effectively prevent binge drinking:
  • Limit the number of drinks consumed at one particular time
  • Eat before and while drinking
  • Don’t be in a hurry; drink more slowly
  • Alternate alcoholic drink consumption with nonalcoholic ones
  • Drink with people you trust to stop you when you’re on the verge of drinking too much