What Is Binge Drinking? Risks, Side Effects, and How to Get Help

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Binge drinking is often seen as a cool activity to do during college life. The 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) revealed that 29.0% of full-time college students aged 18–22 engaged in binge drinking at some point during the semester.

However, despite its prevalence on college campuses, binge drinking behavior happens across all demographics, posing significant health risks. From short-term effects like injuries and alcohol poisoning to long-term consequences, including chronic diseases and mental health issues, the health impact of binge drinking is significant.

Read on to learn about the binge drinking effects and why this risky behavior of drinking is not just a “college problem” but a public health concern.

What is Binge Drinking?

Binge drinking is a pattern of drinking alcohol that makes you drunk in a short amount of time, bringing your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08% or higher. Your BAC quantifies the amount of alcohol circulating in your bloodstream.

This level of alcohol in the blood typically happens when men consume 5 or more drinks or when women consume 4 or more drinks within about 2 hours. For teens, it only takes 3 drinks for girls and 3 to 5 drinks for boys, depending on their age and size.

What is a Binge Drinker?

A binge drinker is someone who consumes a large amount of alcohol in a short period, typically reaching a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher. Despite the common association of binge drinking with young adults, particularly college students, it can affect individuals of all ages and demographics. You can check your BAC level using this BAC Calculator.

In the majority of US states, having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher qualifies you as legally impaired. If you are found driving with this level of intoxication and are aged 21 or over, you can be arrested for impaired driving.

Why Is Binge Drinking Dangerous?

It’s important to know that once your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) reaches or exceeds 0.08%, you begin to experience significant impairments. These include challenges with balance, slower reaction times, and difficulties in speech, vision, and hearing. Reasoning capabilities, memory, and impulse control also become compromised.

This level of alcohol in your bloodstream has a profound effect on your ability to function safely and effectively.  Binge drinking causes a wide range of adverse effects, both immediate and long-term. Let’s describe the dangerous effects of binge drinking:

Immediate Binge Drinking Effects

  • Alcohol affects the brain, leading to poor decision-making, slurred speech, and stumbling.
  • Increased risk of accidents, injuries like falls or car crashes, and violent episodes.
  • Alcohol poisoning with symptoms like vomiting, seizures, coma, or even death.
  • Risky behaviors like unprotected sex or driving under the influence.
  • Heavy intoxication can weaken the gag reflex, increasing the risk of choking on vomit or food.

Long-Term Binge Drink Risks

  • Development of chronic diseases such as liver disease, heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers.
  • Memory problems, learning difficulties, and an increased risk of dementia later in life.
  • Binge drinking can damage relationships with friends, family, and romantic partners.
  • Poor concentration, hangovers, and neglecting studies.
  • Significant risk factor for developing alcohol use disorder (AUD).

The impact of binge drinking can differ from person to person. Factors such as underlying liver or kidney diseases can slow the processing of alcohol. At the same time, a person’s weight, food intake, and general health also influence how alcohol is metabolized and its effects on the body over time.

Binge Drinking vs. Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

Binge drinking and alcohol use disorder (AUD) are related but different concepts within the spectrum of alcohol consumption behaviors. Yet, the misconception that binge drinking is exclusive to alcoholics leads many casual drinkers to underestimate the risks associated with alcohol consumption.

The idea of just “one more drink” appears harmless because there is a widespread belief that binge drinking is associated only with alcoholics. This belief is not only incorrect but also dangerous. The reality is that numerous individuals participate in this risky form of consumption.

Unlike binge drinking, alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a chronic disease characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational or health consequences. AUD can range from mild to severe and often involves a pattern of binge drinking.

The main differences between binge drinking and alcohol use disorder (AUD) lie in:

  • AUD causes withdrawal symptoms.
  • AUD is characterized by a loss of control over alcohol intake.
  • Binge drinking does not necessarily occur daily.
  • Binge drinkers may not intend to get drunk every time they drink.
  • AUD requires medical diagnosis and addiction treatment.

Binge Drinking Prevention

The good news is that binge drinking is preventable. By understanding the risks and implementing some practical strategies, you can make better choices and avoid the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption.

Prevent becoming a binge drinker and staying safe by:

  • Understand how much alcohol your body can process safely.
  • Alternate alcoholic drinks with water or non-alcoholic beverages to avoid exceeding your limit.
  • Arrange a designated driver or use ride-sharing services to avoid driving under the influence.
  • It is okay to decline drinks politely.
  • Surround yourself with people who don’t pressure you to drink excessively.
  • Address the triggers that may be leading you to binge drink.
  • Talk to a therapist or counselor to develop coping mechanisms.
  • Avoid mixing alcohol with medications (i.e., drinking on Accutane)

What Does It Mean To Binge Drink? − Bottom Line

Binge drinking is consuming more alcohol than your body can handle in a short amount of time. Remember that the body can metabolize and excrete approximately one unit of alcohol per hour. Any alcohol that is not processed remains in the bloodstream, affecting major organs and causing health issues.

While binge drinking may not always lead to dependence, it is a severe public issue with significant consequences. In the U.S. alone, about 37 people die in drunk-driving crashes every day. Also, this widespread behavior is linked to serious injuries, diseases, and a higher risk of developing a dependency on alcohol.

If you or someone you know struggles with binge drinking or alcohol intake, don’t hesitate to seek professional help.

People Also Ask

How many units is binge drinking?

Binge drinking is defined by exceeding specific unit limits: men – 5+ units, women – 4+ units, consumed within 2 hours.

What does it mean to binge drink?

Binge drinking means consuming a large amount of alcohol in a short time (typically exceeding 4 drinks for women, 5 for men in 2 hours) to get intoxicated.

What is a side effect of binge drinking?

One side effect of binge drinking is alcohol poisoning, a life-threatening condition with symptoms like vomiting, seizures, coma and even death.

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Page Sources

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  3. Fell, J. C., & Scherer, M. (2017). Estimation of the Potential Effectiveness of Lowering the Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Limit for Driving from .08 to .05 grams per deciliter in the United States. Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research , 41(12), 2128.
  4. Alcohol and the Brain: An overview | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). (n.d.). National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
  5. National Institutes of Health (US). (2007). Information about Alcohol. NIH Curriculum Supplement Series - NCBI Bookshelf. NCBI Bookshelf
  6. Drunk driving | NHTSA. (n.d.). NHTSA
Retrieved on May 17, 2024.

Published on: March 9th, 2018

Updated on: June 11th, 2024

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