Health Concerns from Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is defined by sustained or heavy drinking and may or not link a drinker having an alcoholism disorder.

For estimation purposes, this would comprise about four drinks for women and five drinks for men in a two-hour period of time. In addition, binge drinking is defined by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) as drinking five or more alcoholic drinks on the same occasion at least once in the past 30 days. Heavy drinking is defined as drinking five or more drinks on the same occasion five different days in the past 30-day time period.

The definitions above indicate that there is generally a difference in the notion of binge drinking and heavy drinking. Heavy drinking is defined formally as a pattern of binge drinking that occurs frequently, whereas binge drinking can be defined as a period of consuming alcohol heavily in a set timeframe. Binge drinking becomes heavy drinking when an individual continues this pattern of drinking for five or more times in a 30-day time period.
Depending on the other issues associated with heavy drinking and binge drinking, neither or both could be part of an alcohol use disorder.

However, the consensus on binge drinking is that most individuals who binge drink are not alcoholics (e.g., have a serious alcohol use disorder), but may have mild or moderate alcohol use disorders that would suggest alcohol abuse.

Some Facts about Binge Drinking

Information collected by various sources indicates that:

  • Binge drinking occurs more commonly among young people between the age of 18 and 34 years, but individuals who are 65 years and older report binge drinking more frequently (an average of 5-6 times per month, indicating that this group would also qualify as heavy drinkers).
  • Binge drinking appears to me more common among individuals with incomes of $75,000 or higher than individuals with household incomes less than that.
  • One out of six adults of drinking age in the United States binge drinks about four times a month and consumes an average of eight drinks per binging episode.
  • Binge drinking appears to occur twice as often in men as it does in women.
  • Nearly three-quarters of adults who report engaging in binge drinking episodes are 26 years of age or older.
  • People who report engaging in binge drinking behavior are more than 10 times more likely to also report engaging in impaired driving due to alcohol use than people who do not report engaging in binge drinking.
  • A whopping 92 percent of adults in the United States who drink heavily report binge drinking within the last month.
  • More than half of all alcohol consumed by adults in the United States is in the form of binge drinking, and about 9 out of 10 individuals under the age of 21 who consume alcohol binge drink.

Based on data from national surveys, it appears that individuals who are male, under the age of 34 or over the age of 65, and have household incomes of $75,000 or over are at the highest risk to binge drink. Nonetheless, binge drinking appears to occur across all age groups, income levels, and genders.

There are a number of consequences that occur both individually and to society in general as a result of binge drinking. The research indicates that:

  • Estimated lost productivity at around $250 billion per year is attributed to heavy drinking.
  • Of that $250 billion, it is estimated that $191 billion is attributed to binge drinking.
  • Health problems associated with binge drinking include the following:

    • Alcohol poisoning
    • Injuries due to accidents (falls, automobile accidents, other accidents, fires, etc.)
    • Injuries produced by intent (domestic violence, sexual assaults, other violence, etc.)
    • Increased rates of unintended pregnancies
    • Increased rates of children born with fetal alcohol syndrome
    • Increased rates of sexually transmitted diseases
    • Increased rates of cardiovascular diseases
    • Increased rates of liver disease
    • Increased rates of long-term neurological damage
    • Increased issues with exacerbations of or the development of medical conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, etc.

    Based on the data, it is clear that binge drinking and heavy drinking are both associated with significant costs to society and significant costs to the individuals who engage in these behaviors.

There are some institutional solutions to decrease binge drinking that are supported by empirical evidence. These societal solutions include:

  • Limiting the number of retailers that can sell alcoholic beverages in a specific area
  • Increasing the cost of alcohol through increased taxes and other means
  • Restricting access to alcohol by means of limiting the days and time periods per day that retail outlets can sell alcohol
  • Holding sellers of alcohol responsible for damage and crimes committed by individuals under the influence of alcohol
  • More strongly enforcing age limits on drinking
  • Better institutional screening of potential alcohol use disorders

The issue with some of these controls is that many people in the United States object to strict government supervision of business and personal choice, and many are in objection to increasing taxes on any item or service. However, these large-scale types of interventions would have the effect of decreasing binge drinking significantly and, as a result, decreasing the cost of excessive alcohol use in the United States.

Do People Who Binge Drink Need to Get Treatment?

Dramatic image of a sad teenage girl cryingThe decision to enter treatment for an alcohol use disorder depends on several factors. Interestingly, as mentioned above, the research suggests that most people who binge drink do not generally have an alcohol use disorder; however, this is predicated on the definition of binge drinking occurring only once a month. Heavy drinking, which occurs at least five days out of a 30-day time period, would most likely be associated with other issues that would qualify an individual to have some level of an alcohol use disorder. Thus, it is not the act of binge drinking itself that would indicate whether an individual needs to seek treatment, but the number of times an individual binge drinks (and the consistency of this pattern of behavior over time) as well as the consequences that are associated with the binge drinking.

Briefly, the negative consequences that would suggest that an individual needs treatment for binge drinking include:

  • Experiencing negative ramifications associated with drinking, such as issues with work, relationship issues, issues with school, etc.
  • Wanting to cut down or stop drinking but not being able to do so
  • Consistently drinking more than one had planned to do so when one started drinking
  • Spending more time drinking alcohol or recovering from drinking alcohol than intended
  • Experiencing health issues as a result of drinking, but not being able to stop

One can review the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic criteria for a substance use disorder that includes both the notions of substance abuse and addiction to alcohol to learn more about the diagnostic qualifications for an alcohol use disorder.


Any person who is assessed by a licensed health professional and meets these diagnostic criteria most likely needs to be involved in some form of treatment for an alcohol use disorder or binge drinking behavior.


Moreover, individuals who binge drink and believe they have issues with drinking, desire to stop drinking, or want to cut down on their drinking should seek treatment whether they meet the diagnostic criteria for a substance use disorder or not.

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