Learn more about the signs of binge drinking, short and long-term side effects, and how to get help if you're suffering from alcohol abuse.
What is Binge Drinking?
Binge drinking is a common, often dangerous, and even fatal, problem in the United States. It’s a pattern of heavy alcohol use that raises a person’s blood alcohol content (BAC) to .08% or above.1 This typically happens when men consume 5 or more drinks or women consume 4 or more drinks in about 2 hours.
The concentration of .08% is significant because in many states it is considered the level at which a person is intoxicated and too impaired to drive. 2 One in 6 adults in the United States, engages in binge drinking, on average, 4 times per month, consuming 7 drinks each binging episode. 1
Binge Drinking Differences Between Men and Women
Binge drinking is most common in adults ages 18-34 and is twice as common among men than women.1 Binge drinking is also common among older populations.
For women, reaching a BAC of .08% can happen after consuming about 4 drinks in 2 hours; for men, about 5 drinks in 2 hours.1 However, many factors make up a person’s physiological response to alcohol, including body type, tolerance, and whether alcohol is consumed on an empty stomach or in the presence of other substances. 3
Why Do People Binge Drink?
People engage in binge drinking for many different reasons that include the following:
- Social (peer) pressure.
- The desire to “take the edge off” in an awkward situation or environment.
- A negative coping skill to relieve fear, anxiety, or depression.
- Temporarily escape from the world’s problems.
- The inability to control alcohol consumption.
Binge Drinking: Symptoms, Signs, and Dangers
While not everyone who engages in binge drinking develops an alcohol use disorder (AUD), binge drinking may increase the risk of AUD and other health issues. There are certain criteria an individual must meet in order to be diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder, and although binge drinking is not specifically one of those criteria, binge drinking in the presence of other behaviors can potentially increase the likelihood of developing an alcohol use disorder.
Additionally, binge drinking increases the risk of acute harm like blackouts and overdose as well as risky behaviors like unsafe sex, domestic violence, unplanned pregnancy, and car accidents.4
Short-Term Effects of Binge Drinking
The following are short-term effects of binge drinking:
- Memory loss
- Personal Injury
- Alcohol poisoning (can lead to death)
- Blackouts (When you consume alcohol in excess, the brain is unable to keep short-term information in your memory. A blackout occurs when you cannot remember what happened when you were drinking. You might experience a partial or total blackout).
The following are warning signs that you may have a binge drinking problem:
- Consuming more than four drinks in a day
- Forgetting what happened while you were drinking
- Feeling guilty or ashamed when you drink too much
- Feeling that you need to reduce your drinking
- Feeling surprised when you drank more than you planned
- Having people in your life comment on how much you drink
- Ditching responsibilities to make time to drink
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Long Term Effects of Binge Drinking
While alcohol use continues to be socially acceptable, the effects on your health should not be underestimated. Long-term health effects associated with binge drinking include the following: 6
- Heart disease
- Brain damage
- Liver disease
- High blood pressure
Binge drinking has been shown to increase the risk of certain types of cancers such as breast, colorectal, and esophageal cancers, among others.4
Chronic health issues for heavy drinkers are determined by a variety of factors such as the number of years of alcohol use, genetic background, and gender. Some studies show that women might be particularly vulnerable to alcohol’s effects on major organ systems like the heart and liver.5
Alcohol is deeply embedded in contemporary culture that the idea of quitting can seem challenging. Not only is alcohol legal and available just about anywhere, from gas stations to grocery stores, it’s also often the centerpiece of social gatherings across all demographics.
Treating Alcohol Use Disorder
When drinking begins to feel out of control, if you’re drinking too much, too often, or if it is having a negative impact on your health, work, or relationships, it might be time to consider treatment.
More than 14 million adults, 18 and older, have an alcohol use disorder.7 Many others who may not meet the specific criteria for an AUD may still struggle with controlling their drinking.7
Treatment options for alcohol use disorder include:9
- Behavioral therapies. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has been proven to be an effective treatment for substance use disorders. It is based on the premise that psychological problems are based on negative thought patterns and destructive behaviors. CBT practitioners help people learn better ways of coping, positive self-talk, and healthy ways to manage stress.8
- Certain medications can help reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms for people in the recovery process. Naltrexone, Disulfiram, and Acamprosate Calcium are approved by the FDA to help treat alcohol use disorders.9
- 12-step programs or other support groups. AA and SMART Recovery are effective treatment programs for many people.10
- In-patient treatment/rehab centers. For people with severe alcohol use disorders, a residential treatment setting with medical staff available 24/7 might be necessary for the beginning stages of the recovery process. Withdrawal from alcohol can be dangerous in long-term, heavy drinkers.
It is important to know, there is a wide range of treatment options available to address your individual needs.
Find Treatment for Binge Drinking
Alcohol recovery treatment is a process of introspection and behavior change that takes time. However, the benefits can be life-changing.
Recognizing a problematic pattern of alcohol use is an important first step in the recovery process and getting treatment can provide the help you need on a path toward a healthier life.
Click here for more information about treatment options near you or call 1-866-251-7453 to speak with someone today.
- Center for Disease Control (CDC). (2019, December). Binge Drinking.
- National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration. (1998). Final Report: Legislative History of .08 per se Laws.
- Paton, A. (2005, January). Alcohol in the Body. National Center for Biotechnology Information. (NCBI), Volume 330.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (May 2021). What is Binge Drinking?
- S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (October 2004). Alcohol Alert.
- Molina, P. and Nelson, S. (2018). Binge Drinking’s Effects on the Body. Alcohol Research, Current Reviews and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Volume 39, (1), 99-109.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (August 2021). Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help.
- American Psychological Association. (July 2017). What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
- gov. (2015). Medication for the Treatment of Alcohol Use Disorder: A Brief Guide.
- SMART Recovery. (n.d.). Introduction to SMART Recovery.
- Center for Disease Control (CDC). (May 11th, 2021). Alcohol Use and Your Health.