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At its most basic, binge drinking can be defined as the act of consuming significant amounts of alcohol in one sitting/setting. According to official guidance for alcohol units, men and women are advised never to drink over 12 units of alcohol in one week. In case you would still like to continue drinking, it would be better to evenly spread out every instance of alcohol throughout the week.
But what exactly is binge drinking? What does it involve? Which dangers and adverse consequences does it pose? Read on to find out more:
Understanding Binge Drinking
As we mentioned earlier, binge drinking is a form of alcohol consumption that borders on and goes over and beyond the excessive. After engaging in this act, your BAC (blood alcohol concentration) will typically go over 0.08%. For men, this act refers to having more than 5 drinks within a span of 2 hours while for women it involves taking over 4 alcohol beverages within the same timeframe.
According to recent statistics, binge drinking is mostly common among Americans above the age of 26. Additionally, studies show that people within this age group account for over 70% of all cases of binge drinking. For some, however, - including those who are on other drugs or on prescription medications - it might take smaller volumes of alcohol to get to a point where you are drinking in binges.
NIAAA (the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) also reports that a single unit of alcohol typically meets the conditions outlined below:
- One 12 oz. of beer
- One 5 oz. of wine
- One 1.5 oz. shot of whiskey, brandy, vodka, gin, and other distilled spirits
Although binge drinking is starkly different from an AUD (alcohol use disorder), engaging in this act will significantly increase the risk that you will develop this disorder and eventually suffer from alcoholism. In fact, making the transition can happen so quickly that you will not notice it. Once you get to the point where you can be classified and diagnosed as an active alcoholic, you are also highly likely to suffer a variety of severe health consequences as well as other adverse consequences linked to your excessive drinking.
However, more than 80% of all binge drinkers might not be dependent on alcohol. Still, statistics show that binge drinking continues accounting for the greatest incidence of death arising from alcohol abuse.
Apart from death, however, binge drinking often leads to alcoholism - an insidious condition that may come about even without you realizing it. If left unchecked, therefore, every act of binge drinking could potentially cause you to develop an alcohol use disorder or alcoholism.
That said, the volume of alcohol you need to consume for the act to be referred to as binge drinking is typically significantly more than you would normally drink within the same timeframe.
Formally, the criteria used to objectively measure these episodes has been described by SAMHSA (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) as well as the NIAAA. These episodes include:
- Consuming over five alcoholic beverages in a single sitting by men at least once in a month
- Consuming over four alcoholic beverages in a single sitting by women at least once in a month
- Consuming so many alcoholic beverages in a single sitting such that they raise your BAC levels to 0.08% or more at least once in a month
The single sitting that is referred to by the definitions above is usually considered to mean that you have these volumes of alcohol within a couple of hours. Still, the APA (American Psychiatric Association) has not formally identified the existence of any disorder attached to binge drinking - at least not in the same way that this Association classifies binge eating disorder as a verifiable and treatable mental health disorder.
Thus, binge drinking only refers to a specific type of behavior and actions that may increase your risk of developing problems with alcohol - including but not limited to alcoholism and/or alcohol use disorders.
According to the NHS, however, when you binge drink it means that you consume tons of alcoholic beverages within short time frames with the specific aim of getting drunk. However, since people are different, it might be difficult for you to ascertain the exact units of alcohol you need to take in a single session for it to be referred to as a binge drinking episode.
Still, the ONS (Office of National Statistics) has come up with its own definition of binge drinking to mean the act of consuming more than 8 units of alcoholic beverages in one session (for men) or 6 units for women.
That said, you probably known that people tend to drink over different amounts of time as well as at different speeds. Therefore, this definition might not be universal or apply to everyone who drinks alcohol.
The common thing among people who engage in binge drinking, however, is that they all increase their risk of suffering harm and damage in the short term as a result of injuries and accidents. This risk actually increases from 2 to 5 times what it normally would be for someone who does not drink when you get to a point where you consume 5 to 7 units of alcohol (which is equivalent to 2 to 3 pints of beer).
At this point, you might increase your risk of accidents that result in injury, losing your self-control, and misjudging dangerous situations.
Binge Drinking And Alcoholism
From the specifications listed and discussed above, it might be safe for you to assume that most people who partake in alcohol might have engaged in binge drinking at least once in their lives.
Due to the many potential issues related to accidents and judgement that tend to occur when your alcohol consumption starts shifting from moderate to heavy, it is highly likely that any binge drinking episode might end up being problematic for you and for others around you.
For example, if you are intoxicated, you may have a higher risk of making poor decisions that you would normally avoid if you were sober. Similarly, you might lose control over your emotions and reactions, as well as find yourself involved in accidents and incidents that could cause serious injury.
The worst issues tend to occur when you binge drink on a regular basis such that it becomes more of a norm than an exception. When this happens, your behavior is highly likely to start changing until you get to a point where you can be classified among those who engage in heavy drinking.
Heavy drinking, on the other hand, might raise your risk of developing alcohol use disorders - at least higher than it would for people who only drink on certain spaced out occasions and events.
As we mentioned above, binge drinking is not used to diagnose people with alcohol use disorders and alcoholism. However, if you get to a point where you make heavy binge drinking a regular habit, you will also have a higher risk of developing these conditions.
Still, no specific amount of alcohol you consume can be formally used to diagnose you with alcoholism or an alcohol use disorder. Rather, these conditions are diagnosed according to the adverse effects and serious consequences you suffer as a direct result of your alcohol abuse, the impact of your alcohol use on your ability to operate and function normally, as well as your ability (or lack thereof) to control your alcohol consumption.
SAMHSA and the NIAAA have both reported that men only engage in low risk drinking when they take less than 14 alcohol drinks in a single week (as well as less than 4 alcoholic beverages in a single sitting) while for women it refers to having less than 3 alcoholic beverages in one session or less than 7 alcoholic beverages in one week.
According to this data, it is clear that only a small percentage of the entire population that consumes alcohol at such levels (or lower) can be diagnosed as having an alcohol use disorder. In fact, statistics show that the number is under 2%. However, more than 25% of the people who consume alcohol at rates above these levels are often diagnosed with alcoholism and alcohol use disorders.
To this end, you can be sure that turning binge drinking into a regular habit that you engage in will significantly increase your risk of developing problems with alcohol abuse. Eventually, you might even receive a formal diagnosis for alcohol use disorder.
That said, binge drinking often starts in the late teens to early adulthood (particularly during college years) for most people. If you continue with this behavior beyond these years, you have a higher likelihood of turning into a heavy drinker as well as of developing other issues and problems as a result of your persistent alcohol consumption.
Outlook For Binge Drinking
Many people try rationalizing their actions and behavior - particularly when these are harmful and/or problematic - by searching for information to help them look like they are exceptions. Others will only look for information to confirm what they believe (which is referred to as confirmation bias).
For example, if you regularly engage in binge drinking, it is highly likely that you will start seeking out the potential benefits of drinking alcohol - if only to help you rationalize the amount of alcohol you have been putting away.
However, if you are honest about wanting to determine whether you are binge drinking, whether you can described as a heavy drink, and whether you are an alcoholic with an alcohol use disorder, it is important that you are objective about your behavior, actions, and habits.
You should also check the signs and symptoms below, which are used to mark out episodes of binge drinking and to show its consequences:
1. Regularly Engaging in Substance Abuse
If you are a binge drinker, it is highly likely that you will drink alcohol and use other intoxicating and mind altering substances (including prescription medication) on a regular basis.
Once you get to a point where you have to start mixing alcohol with other drugs, it means that your binge drinking has got to a point where you have a serious problem that should be addressed immediately before it causes further harm over and above the consequences you have already suffered as a result of drug mixing.
In most cases, people who consume a variety of substances end up losing track and/or forgetting the total number of alcoholic units they have consumed. Inevitably, this often results in overdose episodes.
2. Drinking Excessively
On the other hand, binge drinking might also mean that you drink excessively over the weekend and during holidays and other occasions where people are supposed to be relaxing and at ease.
In most cases, heavy drinkers and binge drinkers both might choose to forgo alcohol on a daily basis. However, during holidays and on weekends, they may engage in such ferocious drinking that they could only be described as drinking in binges.
For most of these people, the common belief is that they can easily justify their alcohol abuse during these episodes. Therefore, they may say that they only drink during the week while trying to rationalize their actions and habits.
The truth is that you won't even need to rationalize your alcohol consumption if you have not experienced any problems as a result of it. On the other hand, if you try rationalizing, it means that your binge drinking is becoming excessive and causing adverse effects in your life.
3. Engaging in Risks
Binge drinking might also increase your likelihood of engaging and participating in risky behavior while you are under the influence. For instance, you may find yourself gambling most of your money away, getting into physical and emotional altercations, or even driving and operating heavy machinery while intoxicated.
4. Drinking More Than You Intended
Next up, binge drinking means that you frequently find yourself drinking more units of alcohol that you had originally anticipated you would. This is one of the clear signs of a problem with binge drinking. It could also point to an alcohol use disorder and/or alcoholism.
If you frequently find that you start drinking after you had decided that you only have a couple of units of alcohol before stopping but end up drinking over and above what you had set your mind upon, it means that you clearly have a problem with alcohol.
5. Experiencing Memory Lapses
People who drink heavily and binge drink usually have memory problems and blackouts as a result of their alcohol consumption. Over time, they may start having other problems as a result of the effect of alcohol on their memory.
6. Ignoring Others
If other people have expressed concern about your alcohol consumption - particularly if you also engage in binge drinking - then you need to be objective, listen to them, and seek help.
However, the natural think you would do if you have a drinking problem would be to become defensive and try to rationalize your drinking. After you get to a point where you are diagnosed as an alcoholic and you talk to your close family members and friends, they might tell you that they had already noticed you have a serious problem with alcohol even before you realized it yourself. This is why it is so important to listen to other people and respect their concerns.
7. Ignoring Responsibilities
On the other hand, binge drinking might cause you to start ignoring your responsibilities and obligations. If you get to a point where you cannot take care of your family, keep your commitments, or even go to work after bingeing, then it means that you have a problem that needs to be addressed before it worsens further still.
Negative Consequences Of Binge Drinking
Drinking alcohol - whether you do so in binges or normally - might cause a wide variety of emotional, psychological, and physical problems for you. In most cases, however, the negative consequences arising from your alcohol consumption will often be related to the rate at which you drink as well as the volume of alcohol you put away - and not just the specific type of alcohol you drink.
To this end, when you binge on drinks like beer, wine, and whiskey, you might increase your risk of suffering adverse effects and other problems in much the way you would suffer if you only binged on liquor.
To this end, binge drinking will affect your CNS (central nervous system) and interact with any other substance and/or prescription and over the counter medication you might be taking at the same time.
This means that engaging in this behavior could potentially increase your risk of suffering:
- Significant problems as a result of your dwindling performance at school, at home, at work, and in other important areas of your life
- Relationship problems as a result of being intoxicated most of the time or because binge drinking start negatively affecting other areas of your life
- Higher risk of renal issues
- Higher risk of cardiovascular issues, such as stroke, heart attack, and high blood pressure
- Heightened risk of developing mental health disorders, including but not limited to anxiety, psychotic disorders, bipolar disorder, and depression
- Greater risk of menstrual problems (for women) and impotence (for men)
- Greater risk of developing neurological problems, including dementia, movement disorders, and nerve pain
- Greater probability of developing cognitive conditions, such as problems with attention, decision making, problem solving, and memory
- An increase in the risk of getting involved in accidents and incidents because the alcohol you consume could negatively influence your cognitive and physical functioning
- A higher risk of engaging in risky behavior, such as having unprotected sex with strangers
- A higher risk of becoming involved with the law or being a victim of criminal activities
- A heightened risk of damage to your liver, including but not limited to contracting liver cirrhosis
- A heightened risk of being diagnosed with various types of cancer
If you recognize and understand that you have a binge drinking problem when the habit is as yet unformed but still at its early stages, you may be better prepared to address your issues and resolve them before they deteriorate. This should not be difficult to do because most people who engage in binge drinking start in the teenage and young adulthood years.
On the other hand, in case you choose not to address the problem, it is highly likely that your behavior will continue for many years. Eventually, you may develop severe alcoholism and alcohol use disorder - conditions that could lead you to suffer permanent social, emotional, physical, and psychological ramifications.
Why People Binge Drink
Every year, the total number of people who choose to engage in binge drinking increases. This is despite the many studies and vast information provided to show the different risks and dangers arising from heavy drinking. This could be because many people still view alcohol as a favorite and fun pastime.
Even though binge drinking does not specifically refer to alcohol dependency or alcoholism, it might prove to be just as dangerous. In fact, the excessive consumption of alcohol might end up affect you emotionally, physically, mentally, and financially. Apart from hurting you, this consumption of alcohol might also take a similarly serious toll on your social life and on the people you live.
Still, many people still continue drinking in binges because of the following reasons:
a) To Forget
Many people engage in this behavior because they wish to loosen up, forget about certain problems, and simply let go for a couple of hours. After one drink, they might start feeling so good that they choose to continue consuming more alcohol to maintain this pleasurable effect. Eventually, however, they may drink so much that it borders and exceeds binge drinking.
b) For Fun
Today, most social events revolve around the consumption of alcohol. When you attend these events, you might be tempted to let go of your inhibitions and start drinking alcohol. However, this might eventually become a normal trend for you - a risk that could potentially lead to alcohol dependency in the long run.
c) To Test Tolerance
There are so many different drinking games where people turn the consumption of alcohol into a fun competition. If you find yourself in this situation, your peers might try to get you to compete and outdo other people - a feat that will only result in you drinking alcohol in dangerous amounts.
d) To Rebel
As is the case with most young adults and teens, binge drinking is a form of rebellion because it is a good way (to them) to show that they are unique. Therefore, some might try to resist set social norms and parental rules (or institutional guidelines) and end up binge drinking. Others might do so to boost their confidence, assert the fact that they are free and independent, and simply feel like they are away from the clutches of responsible adult authority.
Side Effects Of Binge Drinking
In most cases, binge drinking is often associated with many different behavioral and health problems. Although some of these side effects might be minor and last temporarily at best, others might lead to permanent damage to your physical, psychological, emotional, and social aspects of life.
In most cases, the sudden albeit temporary side effects that arise as a result of binge drinking may include:
- Poor decision making
- Memory loss
- Coordination problems
However, if you consume alcohol excessively and at a fast rate, you might end up suffering a variety of adverse health effects. For instance, the alcohol might delay your reaction time - which could put you and anyone else on the road in danger if you choose to start driving.
In the same way, drinking too much might impair your judgement. As a result, you may have a higher risk of suffering unintentional or deliberate injuries arising from alcohol poisoning, domestic violence, and sexual assault.
Apart from the short term side effects of binge drinking, there are many other long term complications that might come about as a result of your behavior and actions. Most people tend to overlook these serious consequences because they are often as a result of quick occurrences that might not happen again.
Still, the following are some of the longer lasting harmful side effects that come about as a result of binge drinking:
- Liver disease
- Heart problems
- Brain damage
As we mentioned earlier, most of the side effects that you may suffer after binge drinking will largely depend on the total volume of alcohol you consume, the speed at which you drink, your gender, weight, medical history, and if you have used other intoxicating and mind altering substances while drinking.
In the case of gender, binge drinking tends to affect men differently than women. In particular, women tend to have less body water in comparison to men. As a direct result, they are more likely to reach higher levels of blood alcohol concentration faster and from the same volume of alcohol. This is even after you take into account the vast differences in food consumption, body size, and many other factors.
Dangers Of Binge Drinking
Today, too many people participate in binge drinking with the specific aim of getting wasted drunk. For most, getting drunk is the main goal. However, such behavior often comes with many other dangers, including but not limited to passing out, lack of judgement, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of coordination, and dizziness.
In case you vomit when you pass out after an episode of binge drinking, it is highly likely that your airway may become blocked. When this happens and no one is around to help you, you may lose your life.
The CDC also reports that binge drinking often leads to many accidental injuries such as motor car crashes, drowning, burns, falling, and the lowering of your body temperature to abnormally low levels - particularly if you engage in the behavior during the cold months of winter.
Additionally, binge drinkers have a higher likelihood of killing themselves, abusing children (and their partners), killing other people, sexually transmitted diseases, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart attack, among many other dangers.
The most serious risk of binge drinking, however, revolves around certain death. Since alcohol directly affects the CNS, it follows that consuming too much of it might slow your heart rate and breathing.
Alcohol might also interfere with your gag reflex, meaning that you will be at higher risk of choking on your own vomit especially if you pass out as a result of drinking excessively.
In the same way, your blood alcohol level might continue rising once you pass out after binge drinking. In case you vomit at this point, the risk of certain death from choking on the vomit is much higher.
Alcohol Use Disorder
Otherwise referred to as an AUD, an alcohol use disorder refers to the pattern of problem drinking that is usually accompanied by various problems and adverse effects in your life, including but not limited to:
- Continuing to drink even when it causes problems in your life
- Developing dependence on alcohol
- Drinking even when doing so might prove to be dangerous, such as while driving or operating heavy machinery
- Experiencing tolerance to alcohol
- Ignoring your responsibilities at work, school, and home
- Losing control of your life
- Experiencing intense cravings for alcohol
In most cases, these disorders arise as a direct result of binge drinking on one too many occasions. They also affect people from all ages - even though binge drinking is more common among teens and young adults (particularly those in colleges and universities).
If you find that binge drinking has become a regular occurrence in your life, you might want to seek treatment and rehabilitation through either an inpatient or an outpatient treatment facility.
Treatment will mostly involve assessment, detox (if your binge drinking has given way to an alcohol use disorder or to alcoholism) and intensive therapy and counseling. You may also be taught new ways through which you can prevent yourself from consuming alcohol.
Overall, however, prevention is always key in ensuring your do not engage in binge drinking. There are many programs as well as a wealth of information out there - and through official addiction treatment programs - that you can use to prevent yourself and others from becoming binge drinkers. The earlier you start, the easier it will be for you in the long run.