Nearly one-third of American adults engage in binge drinking, but while this activity is common, it comes with serious consequences, including addiction.
Binge drinking is just like anything else you can binge on, like food or Netflix, and as you might suspect, it’s not the healthiest choice. Why is binge drinking dangerous? There are short-term and long-term effects on the body in addition to the possibility of developing an alcohol abuse disorder. Let’s see what the numbers say and talk about how you can stop binge drinking once and for all.
What Is Binge Drinking and Who Is Doing It?
Excessive alcohol use can be dangerous, but how do you know when it’s excessive? One type of drinking we hear about often is binge drinking.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration above 0.08 grams per decilitre. This generally happens when men consume five or more drinks and when women consume four or more drinks within a two-hour period.
The term “binge” was originally adopted to describe a pattern of problematic drinking characterized by heavy use followed by a period of abstinence.
Binge Drinking is a Pervasive Issue
According to the most recent data, 25.8% of American adults binge drink within a given month. In a survey conducted by The Recovery Village, 32% of those who had tried to quit drinking or were considering it reported binge drinking five or more days per week. Binge drinking over the course of a month is slightly more common among men (29.7%) than women (22.2%).
The lowest rates of binge drinking are seen among adults aged 65 and older, and the highest prevalence is seen in the age ranges of 18-24 and 25-34.
In 2019, 8.3% of adult men and 4.5% of adult women indicated that they had engaged in heavy drinking in the previous month, which is a potentially dangerous pattern of drinking defined as consuming more than four drinks in one day or more than 14 in a week for a man, and more than three drinks in one day and more than seven in one week for a woman. Heavy drinking can also involve binge drinking five or more times in a given month.
The majority of adults who drink excessively report they have engaged in binge drinking in the previous 30 days, and most people under the age of 21 who abuse alcohol consume it in the form of binges. In fact, underage drinkers consume about 90% of their alcohol in binges.
Study Reveals the Effects of Binge Drinking Differ By Gender
A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association revealed that young men who binge drink are more likely than other young adults to have cardiovascular risk factors, such as high cholesterol and elevated blood pressure.
The study reviewed the habits and health of more than 4,700 U.S. adults ages 18–45 between 2011 and 2014. Researchers concluded that more than twice as many men as women (25.1% vs. 11.8%) binge drank alcohol more than a dozen times per year. Our survey found that men were 64% more likely to report binge drinking every day, 81% more likely to binge 5-6 days per week and 33% more likely to report binging 3-4 days per week.
Among those who reported binge drinking, frequent binge drinkers had a total cholesterol level up to 10.1 mg/dL higher than non-binge drinkers.
Also, men who binge drank over 12 times annually had a 121.8 mm Hg average systolic blood pressure compared with 119 and 117.5 for less frequent and non-binge drinkers, respectively.
This is not the first study to address the health effects of binge drinking. Another study released in the summer of 2018 indicated that the national rates of fatal liver disease have risen dramatically. The number of fatalities tied to alcohol-related liver disease among people ages 25 to 34 tripled between 1999 to 2016. This coincides with rising rates of binge drinking across the country.
Reasons for Binge Drinking
People binge drink for a number of reasons. For some, it’s a coping mechanism to alleviate emotional problems or stress. For others, it’s a way to have fun or fit in. The following are some of the most popular reasons for binge drinking, according to medical experts:
- Out of curiosity over what it feels like to be intoxicated
- The belief that it will result in “feeling good”
- To reduce stress
- To feel older
Teenagers and even adults may also binge drink to fit in with peers who are engaging in the same behavior.
Short and Long-term Effects of Binge Drinking
Binge drinking isn’t just dangerous in the long term, it also has short-term effects. Excessive drinking, including binge drinking, costs the U.S. about $249 billion per year. These costs are a result of motor vehicle accidents, criminal offenses, healthcare costs and lost productivity in workplaces.
The effects of binge drinking are serious.
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Unintended pregnancies
- Unintentional injuries like falls, burns, car crashes, and drowning
- Sexual assault
- Academic consequences like missing class, doing poorly on exams and receiving lower grades
- Sickness like hangovers and vomiting
- Alcohol use disorder
- High blood pressure, stroke, or other cardiovascular issues
- Children born with fetal alcohol syndrome
- Liver disease
- Neurological damage
- Suppressed immune system
- Dementia and declining mental function
- Nerve damage
Binge drinking on a regular basis can be a characteristic of an alcohol use disorder. There are mild, moderate and severe cases of this disease. Besides binge drinking, alcohol use disorder can be characterized by drinking more or longer than you intended, getting sick from drinking, getting into situations while drinking where you get hurt or your chances of getting hurt increase, experiencing cravings, or giving up activities or jobs because of drinking.
In 2019, approximately 5.3% of the population, or 14.5 million people, had an alcohol use disorder.
How Binge Drinking Affects You and Others
How to Stop Binge Drinking
The United States has enacted evidence-based interventions to prevent binge drinking and its related effects. These include increasing the costs of alcoholic beverages and related taxes, holding alcohol retailers responsible for harm caused by underage or intoxicated patrons, limiting days and hours of alcohol retail sales, consistently enforcing laws against underage drinking and alcohol-impaired driving and screening and counseling for misuse.
If binge drinking has become a pattern in your life, how can you stop?
To stop the pattern of binge drinking, it’s important to understand why and how you drink. It might be beneficial for you to get help from an addiction counselor or physician. Understanding your relationship with alcohol will give you the opportunity to see if sobriety is something that would benefit you. If binge drinking has become a normal pattern in your life, you may have an alcohol use disorder.
Abstinence is one way that many have successfully stopped binge drinking. Learning how to live a life without alcohol and drugs can be difficult, but it’s possible and it’s rewarding. Through taking steps like going to group support, 12-step meetings, and learning healthy coping mechanisms and skills, binge drinking will not be the solution to problems anymore.
If you want to stop binge drinking and treat an alcohol use disorder, reach out for help. You don’t have to do this alone. The Recovery Village has locations across the country and is ready to take your call to provide you with information about our services and treatment options that can work for you.
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“Alcohol Facts and Statistics.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Accessed August 6, 2021.
“Fact sheets – Binge Drinking.” CDC. Accessed August 6, 2021.
Piano, Mariann; Burke, Larisa; Kang, Minkyung; Phillips, Shane. “Effects of Repeated Binge Drinking on Bl[…] Examination Survey.” Journal of the American Heart Association. June 27, 2018. Accessed August 6, 2021.
Tapper, Illiot; Parikh, Neehar. “Mortality due to cirrhosis and liver can[…]observational study.” The BMJ (British Medical Journal). July 18, 2019. Accessed August 6, 2021.
Nemours Children’s Health. “Binge Drinking.” September 2016. Accessed August 6, 2021.
“Excessive drinking draining the U.S. economy.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed August 6, 2021.
“Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indi[…] Drug Use and Health.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Accessed August 6, 2021.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.