We hear or read about binge drinking quite a lot. Many of us have probably engaged in binge drinking at some point in our lives. We need to clarify what exactly binge drinking is.
Binge drinking is really just a pattern of drinking that brings your Blood Alcohol Level up over the legal limit.
Because drinking is so widely accepted in our society, many people, especially young people, tend to view binge drinking as just another way of having a good time.
Generally speaking, binge drinking is defined as 5 or more drinks within 2 hours for males, or four or more drinks for females. People generally binge drink with the express purpose of getting intoxicated.
The fact is, binge drinking is a dangerous pattern of consuming alcohol. It is directly associated with dangerous activities and behaviors, including drunk driving. There is also a long list of health problems associated with binge drinking.
Binge drinking can also lead to a number of legal problems. Drunk driving is just the most obvious.
What is Binge Drinking?
We are all familiar with the image of young people chugging drinks at parties. These images are everywhere in popular media. Many of us probably took part in some type of behavior like this at some point in our lives.
But the reality of this kind of behavior is that it is dangerous and represents a real problem. What we often see depicted as harmless indulgence is, in reality, problematic binge drinking.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describe binge drinking as the most common and deadly pattern of drinking in the U.S. The definition of binge drinking, according to the CDC, is any pattern of drinking which elevates Blood Alcohol Levels (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or above.
As stated above, 5 drinks or more within two hours for men, or 4 drinks or more for women will bring your BAC up to or above the prescribed levels. If you are consuming alcohol at this level and this rate, you are binge drinking.
Risks of Binge Drinking
There are real dangers to binge drinking. Rather than a simple example of wild behavior that does not have any real consequences, binge drinking presents serious risks. The many risks to binge drinking listed by the CDC include:
- Unintentional injuries such as car crashes, falls, burns, and even alcohol poisoning
- Violence in the forms of homicide, suicide, intimate partner violence, and sexual assault
- Sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS
- Unintended pregnancies and dangerous pregnancies
- Fetal alcohol syndrome
- Chronic diseases such as hypertension, heart disease, and liver disease
- Memory and learning problems
- Alcohol dependence
Binge drinking is a serious problem with serious consequences. By not paying attention to how much you drink and how fast you consume alcohol you are putting yourself and others in real danger.
Causes of Binge Drinking
People binge drink for a variety of reasons. As stated from the outset, many people see binge drinking as just one more way to “cut loose” on the weekends. Binge drinking is perceived as relatively normal. Young people, in particular, appear to view binge drinking as something of a rite of passage—something you do to just be part of the crowd.
However, there are some causes for binge drinking which stand out.
The Fun Factor
People binge drink because it is a way to just let go, to let their hair down and get wild. Because it is so common, it is easy to mistake binge drinking for a reasonable form of celebrating.
Some of us are just not comfortable in social situations. For some, drinking multiple drinks in a short span of time can help them relax and let down their inhibitions. However, it is important to remember that losing inhibitions is one of the things which leads to the serious risks detailed above.
Social Superiority and Dominance
This mostly applies to men. Some men feel that they are better able to assert themselves and their superiority over others after binge drinking. Once again this is largely due to the loss of inhibitions which leads to dangerous and risky behavior.
Need to Escape
Alcohol is commonly used in order to self-medicate. When going through stressful and difficult times, it is easy to self-medicate by binge drinking. The danger with self-medicating is that alcohol will ultimately exacerbate anxiety and depression.
Young people are especially at risk for this. Peer pressure often leads to binge drinking among young adults. The need to fit in, to appear sophisticated and more mature lead some young people to binge drink.
Again, young people are more prone to this than others. The need to rebel against parents and other authority figures often leads young people to binge drink. The status of being wild and outside the rules comes easy with binge drinking.
Many of these factors fuel binge drinking precisely because binge drinking is not properly understood. The neuroscience of binge drinking demonstrates that the ways binge drinking function for these behaviors has a dangerous and problematic basis.
The false stimulation of the pleasure centers of the brain creates an equally false sense of well-being. Relying on binge drinking is inevitably dangerous.
How does Drinking Heavily Affect Brain Function?
Binge drinking is, by definition, heavy drinking.
We tend to not think of it as such, but heavy drinking means consuming alcohol to the point of intoxication, and binge drinking does exactly this. Even though some people binge drinking on rare occasions, it is still an example of heavy drinking.
Over time, heavy drinking can negatively affect your overall health and it especially impacts brain function. Some of the more common effects on brain function include:
- Diminished grey matter in the brain (leading to cognitive difficulties)
- The inability to think abstractly
- Memory loss
- Loss of attention span
More serious effects on the brain can be devastating. Of the most dangerous is Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. This syndrome actually consists of two conditions.
Wernicke’s encephalopathy includes mental confusion, paralysis of the nerves that move the eyes, and difficulty with motor functions. People with Wernicke’s encephalopathy may become too confused to find themselves out of a room. While Wernicke’s encephalopathy is temporary, it does eventually lead to permanent damage.
Korsakoff’s psychosis is a chronic and permanent condition that causes memory loss. People with Korsakoff’s psychosis have problems remembering old information. Even more pronounced is their inability to remember more recent events. Patients with this condition can engage in a conversation and minutes later have no recollection of the conversation.
Binge drinking and other forms of heavy drinking have long term and devastating effects on brain function up to and including serious brain damage.
What are the Medical Consequences of Heavy Drinking?
In addition to the negative impact on the brain, heavy drinking effects nearly every part of the body. All the organ systems in the body can be negatively affected by heavy drinking. There are numerous serious health problems caused by heavy drinking.
Consider some of the more common medical consequences of heavy drinking.
- Liver disease. Alcohol is mostly metabolized in the liver. Heavy drinking will overload liver function leading to damage to the liver. Liver failure will ultimately lead to complete organ failure and death.
- This is a painful inflammation of the liver. More than 70 percent of cases of pancreatitis involved heavy drinkers.
- Heavy drinking has been linked to cancer of mouth, esophagus, larynx, stomach, liver, colon, rectum, and breast. People who are heavy drinkers and who smoke are at even greater danger.
- Ulcers and Gastrointestinal problems. Heavy drinking causes damage to the digestive system. This can lead to ulceration of the esophagus and stomach.
- Immune System Dysfunction. Heavy drinking suppresses the production of white blood cells. This increases the likelihood of contracting diseases such as pneumonia and tuberculosis.
Heavy drinking negatively impacts virtually the entire body. Because alcohol affects the brain and the organ systems, heavy drinking will inevitably lead to serious health problems. Binge drinking is one step toward these health conditions.
Binge Drinking in Teens and Young Adults
Nationally, the minimum drinking age is 21 years. Nevertheless, young people between the ages of 12 and 20 consume 11 percent of the alcohol consumed in the U.S.
Although there has been a decrease in binge drinking among young people overall, recent studies show that extreme binge drinking of 15 or more drinks in a row has increased.
The negative impact on the lives and overall health of young people by binge drinking is profound.
Younger people who binge drink tend to do poorly in school. Binge drinking can negatively affect sexual development and brain development.
One study showed that people who begin drinking early tend to develop morbid obesity more than those who do not binge drink, and they are more likely to develop heart disease.
Binge drinking in youth can have long-term and serious effects. Studies have shown that binge drinking during younger years can affect neurons and neurotransmitters in the brain leading to memory and communication difficulties later in life.
Ultimately, binge drinking for young people generally leads to problem drinking later in life. Nearly all young people who drink heavily as teenagers experience some form of a drinking problem as adults.
Binge Drinking Statistics
Binge drinking is widespread in the U.S. where it is often considered to be a normal part of coming of age. While it is likely that anyone who drinks with regularity will occasionally over-indulge, binge drinking has come to stand out as a real problem.
Some of the statistics on binge drinking are revealing.
- One in six adults binges drinks around four times a month.
- Binge drinking is most common in young adults between the ages of 13 and 34. However, it is reported across all age groups.
- Men binge drink twice as much as women.
- Binge drinking is more prevalent in people from higher income brackets (above $75 thousand per year).
- More than 90 percent of adults who drink excessively report binge drinking at least once in the last 30 days.
Young people are especially at risk for binge drinking.
- It is estimated that 4.5 million young people between the ages of 12 and 20 binge drank at least once in the last month.
- Nearly a million young people ages 12 to 20 binge drank on 5 or more occasions in the last month.
- The greatest number of binge drinkers are between 18 and 24 years of age.
These statistics show us that binge drinking is not only common, but it occurs in at every age and every level of society. No one is immune to the problem of binge drinking.
Treatments for Binge Drinking
The difficulty in treating binge drinking lies in the fact that many people do not see it as a problem. However, if you feel that binge drinking has become a problem for you there are a number of options.
The first thing to do is to seek counseling. Professional addiction counselors can guide you on how to approach your drinking issues. There are drinking reduction programs, however, most addiction experts suggest that you eliminate alcohol altogether.
If you feel that binge drinking has led to a real alcohol abuse problem, treatment may become necessary. There are a number of ways to treat alcohol abuse disorder. The science of addiction treatment has led to multiple options for treating alcohol problems.
Riverwalk Ranch offers medical detox programs if they become necessary. They also have a wide range of treatment modalities designed to assist you according to your specific needs.
While many people will binge drink at some point in their lives and leave it behind them as they mature, for others, binge drinking may come to take over their lives.
Alcohol abuse disorder can be treated through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, or Mindfulness therapy, to name just three prominent methods of treatment.
Again, some people may simply grow out of their binge drinking days. Nevertheless, binge drinking is dangerous and if you feel that it has become a problem for you, seek counseling from an addiction professional or from your family doctor.