Risks of Binge Drinking
Binge drinking is defined as drinking several drinks in a two-hour time period. For men, this amount is five drinks or more; for women, it’s four drinks or more, according to the Foundation for a Drug-Free World. Among underage drinkers (those under 21 years old), 90 percent of alcohol is consumed in binge drinking sessions. Overall, more than half of the alcohol consumed by adults in the US is drank in binge drinking sessions.
Not only do those who participate in binge drinking run the risk of developing an alcohol problem, they also expose themselves to various risks, including legal and health consequences. Should drinkers lose control of their actions during a binge session, they may become victims of a crime, commit a crime while under the influence, or be involved in a vehicular accident. Because alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, someone who binge drinks may stop breathing or suffer from alcohol poisoning. While drinking in moderation causes few, if any, health problems, people who binge drink regularly are at risk of developing several health issues.
Prevalence of Binge Drinking
While binge drinking is common among college students and other young adults, people from all demographics participate in binge drinking. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men and women over the age of 65 report binge drinking about 5-6 times per month on average, which constitutes as heavy drinking.
Binge drinking is more common in households with income levels of $75,000 or more than in low-income households. Men are more likely to binge drink, per the CDC, at a rate that is almost double women.
Physical Effects of Binge Drinking
Alcohol acts as a depressant, slowing a person’s breathing, reaction times, and motor coordination. Alcohol also has other effects, including the following:
- Impairs mental judgment
- Affects memory
- Impacts the ability to reason
- Affects self-control
According to WebMD, serious health effects can be related to binge drinking, including:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Cirrhosis of the liver
- Infectious diseases
- High blood pressure
- Nerve damage
Additional Risks of Binge Drinking
Binge drinking poses specific risks to young adults, ages 18-25, and this is an age group that commonly engages in binge drinking. The brain continues developing up until age 25, and binge drinking can affect normal physical development of the brain, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center. In addition, binge drinking can negatively affect decision-making abilities, which are already underdeveloped in young adults.
Binge drinking is often associated with driving under the influence while intoxicated. This can result in injury and death, to the driver, passengers, bystanders, and other people on the road. Since judgment is significantly impaired while binge drinking, it is more likely that individuals will engage in risky behavior, and this includes drinking and driving.
Physically, a person who has consumed several alcoholic drinks in one short drinking session may lose control of their body, which may lead to physical injuries. Falls and other accidents are more likely, and these can often result in serious injuries. If a person passes out due to binge drinking and then vomits, they may choke on their own vomit, suffocate, and even die as a result.
If a person is unaware of what is happening around them due to drunkenness, they may become victims of a crime, according to the University of Alabama at Birmingham. They may be sexually or physically assaulted, or they may take part in unintended and unprotected sexual intercourse. As a result, binge drinking brings the heightened risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis, or other sexually transmitted diseases, or unwanted pregnancy, due to unprotected sex.
Signs of alcohol poisoning include:
- Shallow or slow breathing
- Bluish tinge to the lips or fingers
- Overall paleness
- Passing out
Since people who binge drink are consuming such large amounts of alcohol in such a short period of time, alcohol poisoning is always a potential risk. Per Mayo Clinic, alcohol poisoning is a serious medical condition that can be deadly if untreated.
People who binge drink often talk about “blacking out,” but these blackouts can be a sign of alcohol poisoning. A person’s blood alcohol concentration continues to go up even after they have stopped drinking or passed out. As a result, attempts to “sleep it off” may result in serious health complications and even death.
If alcohol poisoning is suspected, emergency medical help is needed. Call 911 immediately.
Alcohol Use Disorder
Over time, a person who continually binge drinks is at risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. Per the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, heavy drinking is defined as binge drinking at least five times per month. If a person continues with this pattern of binge drinking, an alcohol use disorder, also known as alcoholism, can take hold.
Teens who engage in binge drinking behaviors are at a three times higher risk of developing an alcohol-related disorder in adulthood, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. As a result, early intervention and treatment for teens who engage in binge drinking regularly is recommended.
People who are suffering from an alcohol use disorder are likely psychically and psychologically dependent on alcohol. They should not attempt to quit drinking on their own, as this can result in life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. Medical detox and comprehensive addiction treatment are necessary to ensure a safe and complete recovery.