There’s something appealing about a “binge,” about letting go of responsibility and indulging to excess. There’s something appealing about it — until you have to face the consequences. And when it comes to alcohol, a binge has consequences, and lots of them. It can even be deadly for the drinker and for those around him or her.
Binge drinking isn’t something that should be encouraged. In fact if you or a loved one indulges, it’s time for a wake-up call. It’s time to get the help you need to put an end to the risks of binge drinking.
Defining Binge Drinking
Binge drinking is easy to define. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains that binge drinking happens when men drink five or more alcoholic beverages during a short period of time or when women drink four or more alcoholic beverages during the same time period.1 Although this is a clear-cut definition, it isn’t without a little controversy or wiggle room.
Alcohol metabolizes at different rates depending on tolerance, weight, height and other factors. A tall, heavy person who drinks regularly may be able to have multiple drinks and experience minimal effects. Another person a few barstools down could have the same amount in the same time period and have a hard time walking out the door. Because no two people are the same, it’s difficult to create rules that apply to all people at all times.
- Drinking with the intention of getting drunk and/or losing control
- Drinking primarily to get drunk and making other goals such as socialization secondary
- Drinking as much as possible in a short period of time2
All these official definitions can be boiled down to what most of us can see and identify as a drinking binge: The person drinks to get drunk and succeeds in that task. And no matter how you define it (or if you even label it at all), the bottom line is that binge drinking is problematic, and it can be dangerous.
The stereotypical binge drinker is a college student who drinks to excess on the weekends with his or her friends. This is true to a degree. The CDC reports that the 18-to-34-year age group has the largest number of binge drinkers. But the age group that binge drinks the most often? Adults older than 65. Binge drinking isn’t just a problem for the young and reckless.
Binge Drinking Patterns
Binge drinking is a huge social issue. The CDC reports the following statistics:
- About 92% of American adults report binge drinking in the past month
- Approximately 90% of alcohol consumed by people younger than 21 is consumed in binge drinking sessions
- About 75% of alcoholic drinks consumed by adults take the form of binge drinking
- Binge drinking is higher among men that it is among women
Binge drinking extends far beyond the college campus or the occasional party. A large number of Americans binge drink, and a large number of Americans face the risks and consequences that come with it.
Physical Health Effects of Binge Drinking
Binge drinking sessions place a high demand on the liver. This organ works hard to remove alcohol from the system. During binge drinking sessions, the liver goes into overdrive to filter out alcohol and rebalance the body. People who binge drink on a regular basis damage their livers. Some of this damage simply cannot be undone. Long-term binge drinking can result in liver disease, heart damage and other organ damage.
Immediate Risks of Binge Drinking
Binge drinking does more than cause long-term, internal damage. The habit can also create significant, immediate problems. These may include the following:
- Sexually transmitted diseases. As inhibitions decrease and a sense of invincibility grows, the person may be less inclined to use protection.
- Unintended pregnancy. Unprotected sex can have additional long-term consequences.
- Broken bones, drowning or burns. People who are drunk are uncoordinated, have poor judgment and make bad decisions. They may suffer a wide variety of accidents as a result.
- Firearm injuries, sexual assault and domestic violence. Binge drinking has been linked to an increase in aggression. This can lead to acting out violently or becoming the victim of another aggressor.
- Drunk driving accidents. People who binge drink are 14 times more likely to drive impaired than are people who do not binge drink.3 These people could be injured due to their drunk driving, but they could also hurt other people when they climb behind the wheel after a night of binge drinking.
Are Binge Drinkers Alcoholics?
Not all people who binge drink are alcoholics. However binge drinking is a warning sign of alcoholism and can indicate the presence of this serious health issue. Questionnaires and self-tests for alcoholism often include signs related to binge drinking.
For example Alcoholics Anonymous asks if you’ve ever experienced blackouts or if you try to sneak in extra drinks when out with others.4 The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence asks if you keep drinking after others have had enough or if you regret the things you did while drunk.5 These are signs and symptoms of alcoholism. They are also probably something you’ve experienced if you binge drink. Even if you or a loved one isn’t an alcoholic yet, regular binge drinking can lead to alcohol abuse and addiction.
When Do I Need to Help?
People who engage in binge drinking on a regular basis may benefit from a loving and supportive conversation about this behavior. This doesn’t have to involve a formal or overly-emotional intervention. You can talk with an addiction professional about the best ways to have loving but effective conversations about problem drinking.
If your loved one drinks and drives, neglects children or other responsibilities, or is violent because of his or her drinking behaviors, this conversation becomes a more urgent need.
Professional support, guidance and maybe even supervision becomes more important as well to ensure everyone stays calm, safe and on-track toward treatment and recovery. During an intervention family and friends can outline the risks of binge drinking. They can point to specific instances where the person’s binge drinking was dangerous or otherwise unacceptable. You can ask your loved one to enter an inpatient program for addiction.
What Does Binge Drinking Treatment Involve?
Inpatient programs typically include medically supervised detox services followed by various forms of counseling. If you notice the signs of alcoholism and act quickly, this level of care may not be necessary. Outpatient care may be a better fit. You or a friend or family member may even benefit from just a short series of therapy sessions with a qualified addiction specialist.
These sessions can help you understand why you binge drink, why it’s dangerous and how you can stop. Any intervention and treatment can change the course of your or a loved one’s life. By acting now, you can avoid the continued consequences of binge drinking. Call 269-280-4673 for help now.
1 “Binge Drinking.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Jan. 2012.
2 “Binge Drinking.” Social Issues and Research Centre. Accessed 17 Jul. 2018.
3 Naimi, Timothy, et al. “Binge Drinking Among US Adults.” Journal of the American Medical Association. 1 Jan. 2003.
4 “Is A.A. for You?” Alcoholics Anonymous. 1973.
5 “Am I Alcoholic Self Test.” National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. 2015.