Uncorking a bottle of champagne; wine glasses clinking when you make toast; cold beers being passed around among friends—in so many cultures around the world, good times are celebrated with alcohol.
But sometimes things go too far. One drink leads to another, and before realizing it, a person has drunk too much alcohol. Binge drinking, both by alcoholics and non-alcoholics, is dangerous and can trigger life-threatening health complications.
What is binge drinking?
Binge drinking is a pattern of excessive alcohol consumption. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, it is drinking enough (generally 5 or more drinks by men and 4 or more drinks by women over 2 hours) that the blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of the person reaches 0.08 percent or more.
At a BAC of 0.06 percent, balance, reaction times, speech, vision, and hearing starts to be noticeably impaired. Reasoning, memory, and impulse control ability are also impaired.
We can also bust a myth for you: Most people who binge drink are not alcoholics, according to the Community Preventive Services Task Force, an initiative of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The myth that only alcoholics binge drink makes many social drinkers let down their guard when they are around alcohol. “One more drink” does not seem too many because they believe they “can’t” binge drink.
What are the effects of binge drinking?
Effects of binge drinking include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Uncontrolled urination
- Loss of bowel control
- Difficulty breathing
- Lack of muscular coordination
- Blurred or double vision
- Reduced body temperature
- Elevated blood pressure
- Irregular heart rhythms
- Drop in blood-sugar level
- Impairment or loss of judgment
- Mood disturbance
- Loss of consciousness
Binge drinking is more dangerous than drinking lesser amounts and at a slower rate. That is because the body can metabolize and excrete only about one unit of alcohol per hour. What is not processed is left behind in the system. Alcohol levels in the blood start to rise, and all the major organs of the body are affected adversely.
The severity of the symptoms of binge drinking varies from person to person. For instance, those who have an underlying liver or kidney disease process alcohol slower than healthy people.
What are the dangers of binge drinking?
Dangers of binge drinking include:
- Unintentional injuries to self and others
(falls, drunken driving, drowning)
- Intentional injuries
(sexual assault, physical assault, domestic violence)
- Unwanted pregnancy from having
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Children born with Fetal Alcohol
Syndrome if pregnant women binge drink
- Alcohol poisoning
- Heart failure
- Hemorrhagic stroke
- Development of alcohol dependence
Effects of binge drinking such as elevated blood pressure and irregular heart rhythms can cause heart failure. High blood pressure can also trigger hemorrhagic strokes. People with diabetes who are on medication for lowering blood sugar may go into a coma if glucose levels fall rapidly after a bout of excessive drinking.
Blurred vision, reduced muscle movement, and impaired judgment increase the risks of injuries from tripping, falling, and drowning. Driving when physically and mentally impaired from drinking also increases the chances of vehicle crashes.
Alcohol interferes with a person’s ability to think straight and envision the consequences of his or her actions. Instances of unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, physical and sexual assault, and violence toward family and friends are not uncommon under the influence of alcohol.
A grave danger of binge drinking is alcohol poisoning, an instance of a person drinking so much that his or her blood-alcohol concentration reaches toxic levels. Alcohol is a CNS (central nervous system) depressant. It is a substance that impairs the normal functionality of the CNS. As a result, breathing slows down and heart rate becomes abnormal. If the symptoms are left untreated, the person can die.
Binge Drinking Statistics
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published the following numbers on binge drinking:
- More than 38 million adults in the U.S. (1 in 6) binge drink.
- S. adults binge drink about four times a month.
- On an average, binge drinkers consume eight drinks per session.
- Adults in the age bracket 18-34 years binge drink the most.
- People aged 65 years and older binge drink the most often, averaging 5-6 times a month.
- The largest number of binge drinkers is in the >$75,000 income group.
- The <$25,000 income group binge drinks the most often and also drinks most every session.
- Men binge drink twice as much as women.
- Binge drinking costs the U.S. economy about $191 billion in losses, every year, from health problems, crime, and loss of productivity.
How can you stop binge drinking?
You can prevent binge drinking by:
- Quitting alcohol
- Drinking alcohol with water and food
- Drinking slowly
- Choosing soda or other non-alcoholic beverages
- Not drinking competitively
- Managing yout stress
- Staying away from binge drinking triggers
- Keeping your children away from alcohol
Lack of awareness. Social acceptance. Peer pressure. Overconfidence. Stress.
Drinking triggers abound everywhere. You cannot escape situations, places, and people that nudge you to have one more drink. It is easy to go overboard, as the numbers quoted above prove. So learn more about how you can keep away from binge drinking.
This is no fool-proof way to avoid binge drinking. However, make sure that you go about it in the right way:
- Don’t quit cold turkey. Speak to your doctor first; if you have been drinking for a long time, you may need to detox.
- Learn how to manage alcohol withdrawal. The pain and discomfort of withdrawal symptoms can trigger a relapse, and often after days or weeks of abstinence, a person might end up drinking too much.
- If you recently finish rehab, ensure that you keep up with alcohol support group meetings.
Drink alcohol with water and food
When you drink on an empty stomach, alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream quicker than when you mix alcohol with food and/or water. The more alcohol in your bloodstream, the more quickly you become intoxicated. Additionally, when you are drunk, your thinking is likely to be impaired, and you are more likely to drink more.
Choose soda or other non-alcoholic beverages
No, you don’t have to forego social events where alcohol is served. But you can keep yourself from drinking too much by choosing soda or non-alcoholic beverages.
Often, people feel compelled to drink alcohol at social gatherings so that they don’t look out of place. If you have a glass in hand—with anything in it but alcohol—you won’t be tormented with questions like, “Why are you not drinking?” Furthermore, if you choose to have alcohol later in the evening, you will be too full to binge on it.
Do not drink to compete
Get it out of your head the idea that drinking is “cool.”
Alcohol is addictive. When you binge drink, you not only ruin your health but also become a risk to others. You can die from binge drinking. Drinking to compete or taking part in drinking bets is the most foolhardy thing you can ever do.
Dig deep to figure out what makes you drink excessively.
If stress makes you reach out for a drink, then you welcome the “high” that alcohol induces. You are at risk of drinking more than you can tolerate. If you drink to de-stress, you cannot quit alcohol or stay away from binge drinking unless you manage your stress levels.
Feelings of frustration and helplessness can also make a person want to “prove” his or her worth by taking part in drinking competitions. Address your emotional needs instead of drowning them in a drink. Work on your fears and feelings of insecurity instead of seeking refuge in alcohol.
Stay away from binge drinking triggers
The triggers can be people, places, or events. The following are some common binge drinking triggers:
- Seeing other people binge drink
- Being in bars and pubs
- Being around alcohol
- Feeling emotionally stressed
- Being unable to manage or bear alcohol withdrawal symptoms
Keep your children away from alcohol
According to the CDC, about 90 percent of alcohol consumed by those aged less than 21 years is during binge drinking sessions!
The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking, a publication by the National Institutes of Health, outlines the dangers of binge drinking among adolescents. The publication advises that the following measures should be adopted to prevent this vulnerable section of the population from falling prey to the dangers of excessive drinking:
- Educate youngsters about the dangers of binge drinking
- Do not introduce children to alcohol at a young age
- Reduce their exposure to alcohol
- Prevent easy access to alcohol
- Encourage them to take up extracurricular activities—volunteering, music, sports, art—that will keep them pre-occupied
- Ask them about their friends and the places where they hang out and look out for attempts to evade answering or lying
- Do not binge drink yourself
Popular media tends to portray binge drinking as “cool” and the most natural thing to do if you are hanging out with friends, feeling sorry for yourself or sad, or wanting to prove yourself. The dangers of binge drinking get lost behind these images. It is time you got the facts straight.
Aside from the detrimental physical and psychological health effects, binge drinking also increases the risk of alcohol dependence.