What Is Binge Drinking?

You go out for a night on the town and end up having a few more drinks than you planned. Thankfully, you’re not the designated driver. Going overboard on alcohol every now and then isn’t a big deal, is it?

Actually, it can be. Binge drinking is no joke. It can create both short- and long-term health problems and lead to accidents and death.

Here’s what you need to know about binge drinking.

What Is Binge Drinking?

Simply put, binge drinking means consuming a great deal of alcohol in a short period of time. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking in more technical terms. It’s a pattern of drinking that brings your blood alcohol concentration to 0.08% or higher.

For a typical man, that means five or more drinks in two hours. For a woman, it’s about four drinks in two hours. That amount of alcohol leads to impaired judgement, impulse control, and motor coordination.

An alcoholic drink is:

  • 12 ounces of beer.
  • 5 ounces of wine.
  • 1.5 ounces of liquor.

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How Common Is Binge Drinking?

Binge drinking is very common, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). About one in six U.S. adults binge drinks, with 25% doing so at least weekly. Of those who binge drink, 25% consume at least eight drinks per binge.

Binge drinking is most common among adults ages 18 to 34. Binge drinking is nearly twice as common among men as it is among women. However, binge drinking is on the rise with both women and adults 65 and older.

What Are the Effects of Binge Drinking?

Drinking any amount of alcohol carries risks, but binge drinking greatly increases the chance of harming yourself or others. Between 2011 and 2015, there were nearly 95,000 deaths from alcohol misuse in the U.S. Almost half were from binge drinking.

Short-term consequences of binge drinking

Binge drinking increases your chances of serious injury or health problems, including:

  • Blacking out.
  • Alcohol overdose.
  • Falling down and hurting yourself.
  • Having an accident, such as burning or drowning.
  • Causing in a car crash.
  • Getting a sexually transmitted infection.
  • Engaging in or being a victim of sexual assault.
  • Getting pregnant.
  • Having a poor pregnancy outcome, such as stillbirth or miscarriage, or a baby with fetal alcohol disorder.
  • Engaging in violent behavior.

Long-term consequences of binge drinking

Over time, alcohol misuse, including binge drinking, can affect your whole body. Binge drinking over the years can lead to:

  • A weakened immune system.
  • Altered brain development during the adolescent years.
  • Memory and learning problems.
  • Inflammation of the pancreas and liver.
  • Development of chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, and liver disease.
  • Increased risk of developing esophageal, liver, breast, and colorectal cancers.
  • Dangerous interactions with prescription medications, especially in older adults.

Cutting Back on Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is never a good idea, but it’s not the same as having an alcohol use disorder (formerly called alcoholism or alcohol abuse). People with alcohol use disorder are unable to limit their drinking.

It sounds counterintuitive, but people who binge drink don’t always have a severe alcohol use disorder. Some people can stop drinking if they choose to. But people who binge drink are more likely to develop a dependency on alcohol than people who don’t binge drink.

If you want to quit binge drinking, or cut down on the amount of alcohol you consume, consider doing the following:

  • Avoid drinking triggers. If you spend weekends in bars with friends who binge drink, you are more likely to follow suit.
  • Write down the pros and cons of drinking. Writing things down can help clarify them in your mind.
  • Ask for help from family and friends. Having encouragement and support from loved ones can help you stick to your decision to curtail binge drinking.
  • Set limits on how much and when you drink. For instance, you might limit yourself to a glass of wine with dinner.
  • Explore healthier ways to cope with stress. Try exercise, meditation, or connecting with friends as an alternative to drinking.
  • Talk to a health care provider. They will be able to guide you in making healthy decisions about drinking.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Understanding Binge Drinking, Link

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Alcohol's Effects on the Body, Link

CDC, Binge Drinking, Link

CDC, Alcohol Use and Your Health, Link

National Library of Medicine, Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), Link

National Library of Medicine, Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment, Link

National Library of Medicine, Alcohol, Link

National Library of Medicine, How much is too much? 5 things you need to know about binge drinking, Link

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