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. But why else is binge drinking dangerous? There are short-term and long-term effects on the body and the possibility of 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

Binge drinking in America is most common among younger adults ages 18–34. More than 25% of that population engages in this activity.

The lowest binge drinking rates are found among older adults. One in 10 adults between the ages of 55 and 64 have engaged in drinking in the past month. Additionally, binge drinking should be defined as no more than three drinks per day for men and two drinks per day for women for adults 60 years or older.

In 2014, 24.7% of people aged 18 or older reported that they binge drank in the past month and 6.7% reported that had engaged in heavy drinking in the past month.

Binge drinking is twice as common among males than females. A recent study found that this can have grave health consequences.

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 hypertension.

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. 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 The Alcoholism Guide:

  • To be more comfortable or self-confident in social settings
  • For the mere enjoyment or thrill of it, especially in party settings
  • Peer pressure and desire to be accepted
  • To compete with someone else as a means of asserting dominance
  • Mere curiosity of the sensation
  • As a means of rebellion (common with teens)
  • To self-medicate while dealing with personal issues

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, cost the U.S. $249 billion in 2010. This occurred due to losses in productivity, healthcare, crime and other miscellaneous expenses. Binge drinkers are also 14 times more likely to report alcohol-impaired driving than non-binge drinkers. The effects of binge drinking are serious:

  • Short-Term Effects of Binge Drinking:

    • 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
    • Blackouts

  • Long-Term Effects of Binge Drinking:

    • Alcohol use disorder
    • High blood pressure, stroke, or other cardiovascular issues
    • Children born with fetal alcohol syndrome
    • Liver disease
    • Neurological damage
    • Pancreatitis
    • Cancer
    • Suppressed immune system
    • Depression
    • Dementia and declining mental function
    • Seizures
    • Nerve damage
    • Anemia

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 2012, approximately 7.2 percent (or 17 million adults) in the U.S. aged 18 or older had an alcohol use disorder in 2012.

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 addictions counselor, doctor, therapist or a treatment center.

Understanding your relationship with alcohol will give you the opportunity to see if sobriety is something you should strive for. If binge drinking has become a normal pattern in your life, you may have an alcohol use disorder.

Abstinence is one way many have successfully stopped binge drinking. Learning how to live a life without the crutch of alcohol and drugs can be difficult, but it’s possible and it’s rewarding. Through group support, 12-step meetings, and learning the proper coping mechanisms and skills to get through life, binge drinking will not be a solution to your problems anymore.

If you want to stop binge drinking and treat an alcohol use disorder, the smartest thing you can do is reach out for help. You don’t have to do this alone.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a 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 provider.

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