The phrase “binge drinking” carries connotations that it is uncommon, that it is a problem only associated with those who suffer from alcoholism. However, contrary to popular belief, binge drinking is actually the most common form of excessive alcohol use in the United States and most individuals who binge drink do not actually have a diagnosed alcohol use disorder.
Misconceptions surrounding binge drinking often come from not knowing the exact definition. As defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), binge drinking is a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 g/dl or above. In more simple terms, this converts to about 5 or more drinks for men and 4 or more drinks for women within a span of two hours.
There is no question that an excessive amount of alcohol is required to qualify as binge drinking, but someone who binge drinks is not necessarily an alcoholic although alcoholics are usually binge drinkers.
Who Binge Drinks Anyway?
Based on the definition of binge drinking above, it is safe to assume that many individuals who have indulged in drinking alcohol have binge drank at least once. Unsurprisingly, according to the CDC, binge drinking is most common in adults ages 18-34. In fact, about 25% of college age students binge drink along with about 25% of adults ages 25-34. And, among the numbers of high school students who consume alcohol, nearly 18% identify as binge drinkers.
Despite the majority of binge drinking being done among young adults, over 50% of actual binge drinks are consumed by those over the age of 35. This has to do with the level of alcohol it takes based on the individual to raise their BAC to a point that qualifies as a binge, most of which has to do with age and experience. Nonetheless, binge drinking does not discriminate and neither do its consequences.
Why do People Binge Drink?
There are a number of reasons people turn to drinking alcohol in the first place, but some individuals find that one drink does not quite satisfy them. Binge drinking magnifies the effects of one or two drinks to a level that often causes individuals to completely forget or ignore what is really going on in their lives.
Many people who end up binge drinking do not begin drinking with that intention. Binge drinking is often a result of wanting to maintain or intensify the feeling that one or two drinks may offer. Oftentimes, the amount of alcohol necessary to maintain these feelings can cause individuals to forget any problems bothering them in the outside world. Binge drinking can act as a temporary escape, but can also result in actual memory loss or blacking out.
In some settings, such as college parties or at bars, peer pressure and the desire to look cool or have fun can lead to binge drinking inadvertently. Drinking games at these parties that test alcohol tolerance often cause binge drinking unknowingly as players attempt to outdo each other to win without realizing exactly how much alcohol they are consuming.
Whether binge drinking occurs knowingly or unknowingly, the negative side effects are the same. Although binge drinking does not necessarily constitute an alcohol use disorder, it can still become a trend and act as a gateway to dependence later on.
Effects and Risks of Binge Drinking
Binge drinking can result in both internal and external consequences for the individual. Internally, less severe symptoms fall under the category of what would be considered a hangover—this includes nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, feeling dehydrated, dizziness, loss of appetite and feelings of fatigue. More severe consequences include losing consciousness, memory loss, and alcohol poisoning. Keep in mind, you are at risk of any or all of these symptoms each time you choose to binge drink.
External risks of binge drinking really have to do with what the individual does under the influence. While drunk, people can be involved in situations that cause them harm, such as car crashes, falls or burns. Those who are violent drunks may end up harming those around them as well. Having sexual intercourse during or after binge drinking may cause the participants to, intentionally or unintentionally, forgot the use protection, resulting in the transmission of STDs or involuntary pregnancy. Given these examples, it is important to remember that while you may not only face consequences yourself from your binge drinking, you may affect the lives of other people as well.
Binge Drinking vs. Alcoholism
Again, it is important to remember that most people who participate in binge drinking do not have an alcohol use disorder. However, this does not mean that binge drinking will not lead to an alcohol problem nor will it have any less severe consequences. Any level of intoxication, whether from binge drinking or alcoholism, puts the individual at a higher risk of suffering bodily harm or short or long term health issues.
The point where binge drinking crosses the line into alcohol use disorder is when it becomes a pattern. Becoming a heavy drinker through binge drinking automatically puts the individual at a higher risk of developing alcoholism. Once binge drinking has become a habit and the individual does not feel normal without alcohol in their system, it is likely they have developed an actual alcohol use disorder. That being said, not every alcoholic is a binge drinker, but everyone who binge drinks frequently is at risk of developing an alcohol use disorder.
If you notice that you or a loved one has been partaking in binge drinking more than is safe for their body, take the time to evaluate you or their habits and discuss if it is time to seek professional help.
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