It’s surprising to know how easy it is for one to be considered binge drinking when enjoying alcohol. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, binge drinking is defined as drinking alcohol to a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent1. This typically means drinking five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women within a two-hour timespan. About 1 in 6 adults in the United States binge drinks, with 25% doing so at least on a weekly basis.
Binge drinking is the most common, costly, and deadly pattern of excessive alcohol use in the United States2. Binge drinking is a harmful risk behavior associated with serious injuries, numerous risk factors, multiple diseases, severe complications within the body, and can be fatal.
Drinking alcoholic beverages can be enjoyed with friends and family or after a long day at work, but the line between low-risk drinking and moderate drinking is easy to cross when it comes to binge drinking.
The act of binge drinking can be perceived as a means of letting loose and having fun. In many social circles, this behavior is not only acceptable but glamorized. Binge drinking can also be used as an escape from daily life and can lead to long and short-term consequences.
This avoidant coping strategy provides temporary relief but oftentimes creates further consequences. Binge drinking is dangerous and can lead to severe consequences. Although most people who engage in binge drinking will never experience alcohol poisoning or kill someone while driving under the influence, many health and social implications pose short- and long-term risks.
The difference between binge drinking and regular drinking all comes down to how many standard drinks you consume on one occasion. Researchers define binge drinking as having many drinks on one occasion: five or more drinks for a male and four or more drinks for a female. While drinks come in many sizes and contain varying amounts of alcohol, medical professionals adhere to a system of standardized drink sizes when measuring alcohol intake.
A standard drink is defined as one3:
Consuming more than these amounts is considered binge drinking and can come with numerous risk factors, side effects, and potential long-term effects.
Typically the effects of alcohol can begin within 5 to 10 minutes of having a drink. About 90 percent of alcohol in the blood is broken down by the liver. The remaining percent of alcohol is excreted through the lungs, kidneys, or in sweat.
For an average-sized person, the liver can only break down about one standard drink per hour. Drinking more alcohol than the liver can process may cause blood alcohol content to increase and can cause harmful effects on the body. Factors that can also affect BAC include body type, if food was consumed recently, and how fast the drink was consumed. Even age, sex, and ethnicity can play a role in BAC levels4.
Short-term health risks are oftentimes acute and can occur immediately upon drinking. Although these effects can last for a brief amount of time, they can be serious or even fatal. Binge drinking just once could lead to disastrous consequences if not careful. Every year there are new stories of young adults having drunk for the first time and dying of alcohol poisoning or other alcohol-related accidents.
Short-term health effects and risks include10:
Long-term effects of binge drinking are those that tend to build up over time. Continued excessive drinking can cause exposure to a variety of diagnosable medical and mental health conditions that range from high blood pressure to major depressive disorder. Warning signs are oftentimes present as the condition grows in intensity; however, these signs are oftentimes neglected or overlooked.
Long-term health risks can include5:
Each year, thousands of college students end up in the emergency room because of alcohol poisoning8.This occurs when heavy alcohol use affects the central nervous system, slowing breathing and heart rate. Heavy alcohol use can interfere with the gag reflex which can increase the risk of choking on vomit if unconscious.
Blood alcohol levels can keep rising even if unconscious. Signs of alcohol poisoning can include confusion, vomiting, seizing, pale skin, or passing out. Any of these signs can be seen as a medical emergency, and alcohol poisoning can lead to brain damage or death.
Call 911 if a person has any of these serious symptoms of alcohol poisoning9:
Engaging in binge drinking can create a heightened risk of developing an addiction to alcohol or alcohol use disorder (AUD). About 20% of college students fit the pattern of having alcohol use disorder7.
Ongoing drinking may be accompanied by:
According to the CDC, binge drinking leads to accidental injuries. These include motor-vehicle crashes, falls, burns, and drowning. It also includes having the body temperature drop to an abnormally low level. This is even more likely if the binge drinker is outside during the winter months.
Binge drinkers have a greater risk of6:
Binge drinking can lead to higher risks of safety and health problems. Not only can heavy drinking cause physical side effects, it can also cause emotional and mental problems.
Risks to well-being can include:
The causes and triggers of binge drinking do vary but typically tend to serve in a capacity in which one is either trying to have a fun time or seeking a means of escape. For some individuals, there may be an intention to binge drink. For others, it may result from letting one’s guard down and not moderating alcohol consumption. In either case, whether intentional or not, it is still a dangerous practice.
Common causes and triggers of binge drinking include:
Binge drinking is an activity that may be done by any person at any time. Struggling with a mental health disorder or substance use disorder can increase vulnerability to participate in binge drinking. Maladaptive thinking and coping skills associated with substance abuse and mental illness may drive drinking behaviors.
Knowing when drinking will occur can allow planning ahead of time, staying in control, and staying safe. Drinking responsibly can lead to fewer consequences for physical and mental health.
Tips for safer drinking include3:
Treatments that address the problematic behavior while concurrently exploring effective beliefs and thoughts surrounding binge drinking are ideal. It is also important to work on any other problems in addition to other mental health or substance use disorders at the same time. Programs that offer dual diagnosis treatment may be best when a mental health disorder and substance use disorder are present.
The severity of the issue is what primarily determines the type of treatment required. Personal preference is another important factor. Common forms of treatment occur in a residential or outpatient setting.
Residential (inpatient) treatment is oftentimes the most comprehensive. Patients partaking in this form of treatment live on-site throughout the duration of treatment. Individuals are monitored 24/7 while partaking in various individual and group therapy sessions, educational sessions, therapeutic activities, and medication management. Programs can range from thirty days to a full year, depending on the level of severity.
Outpatient treatment may be conducted one-on-one with a counselor, in a group setting, or in an intensive outpatient program. Individual sessions offer the opportunity for one to explore individual issues. The client and therapist work together toward specific goals, which oftentimes include behavioral, thought, belief modification, psychoeducation, and resolving past grievances. Sessions typically last thirty to sixty minutes but may also incorporate partial-day programs if more care is needed.
Binge drinking occurs when a large quantity of alcohol is consumed in a short period of time. This kind of drinking, whether frequent or infrequent, can have effects on overall mental health and wellbeing. Consequences related to binge drinking not only affect the individual who is drinking, but also can affect others around them.
If you or someone you love continues to partake in binge drinking and cannot stop, please reach out to Solace Treatment today. Our team can answer any questions you may have and give you a better understanding of our outpatient program.