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Binge Drinking

Binge drinking has become more and more common over the past several decades. This term is used to define a pattern of excessive alcohol use here in the United States. Today's standards set by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines "binge drinking" as a pattern of consuming alcohol to the point where the user's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is at .08 grams percent or higher. The Centers for Disease Control note that one in six American adults binge drinks around four times a month, an average of eight drinks per binge.

How much is a "drink" of alcohol? 12 grams of pure ethanol (alcohol's proper name) is considered a standard drink. This equates to: a 12 ounces of beer or wine cooler, 8 ounces of malt liquor, 5 ounces of wine or 1 1/2 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits (whiskey, etc.). Today, restaurants, bars and other places where alcohol is sold offer larger sizes (16-20 ounce cups) for their costumers. Wine is also being sold in larger quantities than the standard 5 ounce serving; today it is closer to 8 ounces in many establishments.

In men, binge drinking is when the individual consumes five or more drinks within two hours; for women, the rate is typically four or more drinks within two hours. The two different thresholds chosen for men and women are intended to reflect the separate rates alcohol metabolizes between the sexes. The purpose of the "five-four" drink amount is to guide individuals into making sensible decisions, and help them determine when to stop drinking. Often after this point, the individual enters the danger zone and may experience any number of negative effects caused by their alcohol consumption. It is important to note that most individuals who participate in binge drinking are not alcohol dependent.

The precise definition of binge drinking can seem very exacting and clear-cut. In reality, when a person sets out to get drunk, then consumes a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time, they are participating in binge drinking. Factors that often lead to points of confusion around the definition of binge drinking include the amount of time that goes by while the individual is drinking, if they have eaten or are consuming food with their alcohol and if they are on any other substances (e.g. prescription medication, marijuana, etc.). Both over-the-counter and prescription medications can intensify the effects of alcohol, causing the user to become intoxicated faster and with fewer drinks than they anticipated. Consuming alcohol while on another substance, legal or illegal, can be extremely dangerous. Many drugs (prescription, over-the-counter and illicit substances) can bring about serious reactions in the user, which can become fatal in some circumstances.

The list of possible injuries associated with binge drinking is extensive. The Centers for Disease Control note that binge drinking is a primary reason behind many accidental injuries. This includes car accidents, falls, burns, drownings and the possibility of lowering the user's body temperature to a dangerously low level. Additional injuries connected with binge drinking are child abuse, domestic violence, and hurting or killing oneself or someone else. Physical problems associated with alcohol abuse include sexually transmitted infections, inflammation of the stomach, pancreas, brain, or spinal cord, high blood pressure, heart attack, and poor control of diabetes.

When a person consumes too much alcohol in a short period of time, the outcome can result in death. Alcohol is a drug that affects the user's central nervous system. What many people do not realize is that the user's blood alcohol levels can continue to rise even if they have passed out. An individual who participates in binge drinking runs the risk of disrupting their central nervous system. Their breathing and heart rate slow and their gag reflex is hindered. It is not uncommon for an individual who has consumed too much alcohol to pass out from its effects; sadly, many have died from choking on their own vomit. Additional signs of current alcohol abuse include confusion, pale skin, passing out, vomiting and seizure.

While binge drinking does not always progress to alcoholism, it does make the individual more likely to develop drinking problems in the future. Alcohol use disorder is a term used to describe a pattern of drinking often accompanied by the following problems: The individual has a difficulty or fails at following through on work, school or home responsibilities. They consume alcohol in situations when it is dangerous to do so, such as driving a vehicle or operating machinery. This may potentially lead to being arrested for drunk driving or hurting someone while they are intoxicated. Also, they may choose to drink despite health issues, problems with personal relationships and finances. Continued alcohol abuse will lead to strong cravings, a loss of control and eventually physical dependence.

Statistics from the Substance Abuse and mental health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Survey on Drug Use and health (NSDUH) from 2008-2009 show that underage youth (12-20) in the northeast portion of the United States have a higher rate of past-month binge drinking than the national rate. Maryland's underage past-month binge drinking rate was 16.7% and Vermont's was 24.6%, compared to the national rate of 17.7%. For America's youth, binge drinking is typically done with friends and in another person's home. Statistics show there are fluctuations in youth binge drinking and cases often increase around exams, social occasions (homecoming, prom, etc.) and various sporting events.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2008-2009 indicates the highest national rates of binge drinking are among citizens 18-25 years old. The lowest portion of the population participating in binge drinking in the United States is older adults. 1 in 10 individuals between the ages of 55-64 have engaged in past-month binge drinking. However, recommendations from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism suggest binge drinking for individuals over 60 years of age should be "...no more than three drinks per drinking day for men, and no more than two drinks per drinking day for women." Because the binge drinking rates are calculated for the "general adult population", it is likely that binge drinking rates for person's over 60 years old are underestimated. Statists from the CDC note that while binge drinking is more common among young adults (18-34 years old), individuals 65 and older report binge drinking more often. On average, five to six times a month.

Facts about Binge Drinking:

  • The article 'Binge drinking among US adults' states that individuals who binge drink are 14 times more likely to report alcohol-impaired driving than non-binge drinkers.
  • Information from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention points out that here in the United States, more than half of the alcohol consumed individuals over 21 years old is in the form of binge drinking.
  • The CDC reports that binge drinking is more prevalent among individuals with household incomes of $75,000 or more, as opposed to those with lower incomes.
  • An article titled 'Health care access among U.S. adults who drink alcohol excessively: missed opportunities for prevention' from April 2006 notes that 92% of American adults who report excessive drinking have participated in binge drinking in the past 30 days.
  • During 2006, citizens who drank too much or participated in binge drinking cost the United States $223.5 billion in losses connected with productivity, health care, crime and other expenses. (Economic costs of excessive alcohol consumption in the United States, 2006)