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Is Binge Drinking Really That Bad for You?


Is Binge Drinking Really That Bad for You?

You have no doubt heard the stories—a young person celebrating their 21st birthday downs 21 shots of liquor, and sadly, it is the last birthday they ever celebrate. Or a fraternity pledge consumes an extraordinary amount of alcohol during a pledge week event, ending with disastrous results and criminal charges. The stories are unfortunately familiar.

Though binge drinking seems to make news as a college phenomenon, it has become more common among twenty-somethings, thirty-somethings, and even an estimated 10.6% of senior citizens. Drinking has become synonymous with celebration, and for many, it’s hard to imagine a party without it.

Think about specific events like the Super Bowl or Austin’s SXSW, geographic areas like New Orleans’ French Quarter, and holidays like New Year’s Eve or Cinco de Mayo—you can likely picture the liberal consumption of the characteristic cocktails. And as pervasive as this social pastime is, you may be wondering, is binge drinking really that bad for me? Let’s take a look at the data to sort it out.

Understanding Binge Drinking by the Numbers

Though the term binge drinking is commonly understood to mean drinking to get drunk, the NIH’s National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines it as “a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL.” This generally occurs after consumption of 4 or more drinks for women or 5 or more for men on a single occasion. A blood alcohol level of 0.08g/dL is also the legal limit for driving in all 50 states.

SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, further defines heavy drinking as binge drinking that occurs five or more times in a month. It is twice as common among men as it is among women; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one in six adults engages in binge drinking on a regular basis. And they note that binge drinking is more common in people with higher education levels and household income exceeding $75,000.

Examine the Risks—Is Binge Drinking Really That Bad?

With alcohol consumption quite common and so tightly interwoven in our culture and celebrations at nearly every stage of adult life, you may be wondering just what is the big deal? How risky is binge drinking, and what are the concerns?

Here are a few things to consider:

How Will Binge Drinking Affect My Health?

In the short term, those who binge drink may experience nausea, vomiting, hangover, and memory lapse. When people engage in binge drinking, alcohol poisoning is also a real and acute danger. This occurs when the amount of alcohol consumed exceeds the body’s capacity to process it. As a central nervous system depressant, alcohol slows your reflexes, alters your cognitive capacity, and depresses your body processes, including heart rate, respiration, and temperature. In extreme cases, seizures, coma, and death can result.

Besides the immediate concerns, heavy drinking can also cause chronic health problems. Over time, it can affect blood pressure and lead to heart disease. It can cause damage to the brain, affecting memory and one’s ability to learn. Since the liver is the primary detoxifier for our blood, heavy drinking can lead to damage of this critical organ. Excessive alcohol consumption has also been implicated in several types of cancer, especially those of the head and neck, liver, and breast.

What Are the Safety Considerations?

Unfortunately, when overconsuming alcohol, we tend to let our guard down. In those cases, we may make decisions that put ourselves and others at risk. This might include having unprotected sex that puts us at risk for unplanned pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). It may also prompt us to trust the wrong people or put ourselves in dangerous situations, which could leave us the victim of injury, violence, or crime. And, of course, one of the most well-publicized dangers of excess alcohol consumption is the decision to drink and drive. The CDC estimates that 85% of drinking and driving episodes involve binge drinkers.

Does Binge Drinking Lead to Addiction?

While most people who engage in binge drinking are not alcohol dependent, the NIAAA cites binge drinking and heavy alcohol use as risk factors for developing alcohol use disorders. As they consume large quantities of alcohol, binge drinkers stretch their tolerance, necessitating the need to drink more over time to get the same effect. Some binge drinkers develop a dependence on alcohol that becomes an addiction.

Both binge drinking and alcohol addiction involve patterns of drinking that may be classified as substance use disorders. As such, they may both require professional help to address the immediate and long-term dangers. Binge drinkers benefit from education and counseling to identify and understand the risks. People who have developed an addiction to alcohol will likely need help with detox stabilization to deal with the physical dependence before beginning an extended rehabilitation program to learn to live without it.

When Is It Time to Talk to Addiction Treatment Specialists?

Although the acceptability of binge drinking in social situations has normalized the overconsumption of alcohol across a range of age groups, it’s clear that there are significant risks attached. The immediate concerns involve the dangerous behaviors associated with excessive drinking as well as the chance of suffering acute alcohol poisoning. In the long term, the risks of chronic health problems, including alcoholism, also increase.

If you are concerned about the long-term effects of binge drinking on yourself or a family member, it makes sense to get the input of a specialist in substance abuse and addiction science. With their knowledge and experience in working with substance use disorders, they can evaluate your concerns and help to advise you regarding the long-term risks associated with binge drinking. If a persistent inner voice is nagging you about this risky pastime, perhaps it’s time to listen and get the facts.

If you are wondering if binge drinking is really that bad for you, the addiction medicine specialists at New Choices Treatment Centers can provide an informed perspective. Contact us online, via chat, or by phone at (726) 888-7003 to get answers to your questions.