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Binge Drinking: Effects, Risks & Dangers of Binge Drinking

3 min read · 9 sections
Binge drinking is a potentially dangerous pattern of ingesting large quantities of alcohol over a short period of time. In the U.S., binge drinking is a serious public health concern, especially among college-age adults (ages 18-to-22). Roughly 40% of college students in the U.S. report binge drinking.1

What is Binge Drinking?

Binge drinking is the consumption of large amounts of alcohol over 2 hours or less resulting in a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or 0.08 grams per deciliter of alcohol or higher.2

For men, a BAC of 0.08% or 0.08 grams per deciliter of alcohol or higher is often reached after drinking 5 or more alcoholic drinks.2 For women, it typically occurs after drinking 4 or more alcoholic drinks.2 Though BAC most commonly refers to the amount of alcohol in a person’s blood, such standardized levels of intoxication can be estimated through both blood and breathalyzer tests. In one’s blood, BAC is the measurement of the weight of ethanol in grams per deciliter of blood.3 In one’s breath, BAC is the measurement of the weight of ethanol in grams per 210 liters of breath.3

People may subjectively experience alcohol intoxication differently for several reasons, including how much alcohol they consistently drink, their subsequent level of alcohol tolerance, individual differences in alcohol metabolism, additional substance use, and more. In turn, this variability can make BAC and the number of drinks someone has had an inconsistent indicator of intoxication or drunkenness.3

Binge Drinking & Alcohol Abuse: Signs of a Problem

Although not everyone who binge drinks has an alcohol abuse problem, binge drinking can increase a person’s risk of developing alcohol use disorder (AUD).4 AUD’s diagnosis is based on characteristic patterns of problematic alcohol use to have taken place during a 12-month period. Several of these diagnostic criteria include:

  • Having strong cravings for alcohol.
  • Inability to cut down on alcohol use.
  • Significant efforts to get alcohol, drink alcohol, or an increased amount of time needed to recover from drinking alcohol.
  • Alcohol use causes an inability to complete tasks at home, school, and/or work.
  • Using alcohol despite alcohol causing social and interpersonal issues.
  • Avoiding social, work, and other activities due to alcohol use.
  • Continued use of alcohol in hazardous situations such as while driving.
  • Use of alcohol despite having health or psychological issues related to alcohol use.
  • Alcohol tolerance, which is shown by the need to use more alcohol to feel its desired effects.
  • Withdrawal symptoms when one attempts to stop using alcohol.

Is Binge Drinking Considered Alcoholism?

Binge drinking does not necessarily mean that a person is an alcoholic or suffers from severe AUD.6 However, binge drinking may increase the risk of a person developing AUD sometime in their life. Monitoring how a person uses alcohol, including the amount of alcohol consumed, may help determine if a person is binge drinking.7

Take Our Substance Abuse Self-Assessment

Take our free, 5-minute substance abuse self-assessment below if you think you or someone you love might be struggling with substance abuse. The evaluation consists of 11 yes or no questions that are intended to be used as an informational tool to assess the severity and probability of a substance use disorder. The test is free, confidential, and no personal information is needed to receive the result.

Causes & Risk Factors for Binge Drinking

Several sociological and psychological factors may contribute to binge drinking. These factors include:8,9,10

  • Living or socializing in a drinking culture such as at some colleges or in families with heavy drinkers.
  • Peer pressure, especially among young adults.
  • Low cost of and easy access to alcohol.
  • Boredom.
  • Having poor coping skills.
  • Experiencing trauma(s).
  • Low educational goals.
  • Depression and anxiety.

Health Impacts & Negative Effects of Binge Drinking

The physical effects and mental repercussions of alcoholism can be devastating. Alcohol is the third leading cause of death in the U.S.11 Each year, approximately 88,000 people (62,000 men and 26,000 women) in the U.S. die from alcohol-related causes. An estimated 9,967 people die from alcohol-impaired driving fatalities each year in the U.S.11

Binge drinking is associated with several short-term and long-term physical and mental health effects from alcohol. Some  of the potential short-term health impacts and other negative consequences of binge drinking include:6

  • Injuries from car accidents, falls, and burns.
  • Alcohol poisoning.
  • Domestic violence, homicide, suicide, and sexual assault.
  • Unsafe/unprotected sexual activity.
  • Sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancy.
  • Weakened immune system.
  • Issues during childbirth, birth defects, or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
  • Cardiovascular issues such as high blood pressure, stroke, cardiomyopathy.
  • Liver disease including alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis.
  • Pancreatitis.
  • Increased risk of colon, breast, mouth, throat, esophageal, and liver cancer.

Is Occasional Binge Drinking Okay?

Binge Drinking Facts & Statistics

Some binge drinking facts and statistics include:2,6,11,13,14,15

  • Between 1993 and 2001 in the U.S., there was an increase in binge drinking from an estimated 1.2 billion to 1.5 billion among adults.
  • In the U.S., binge drinking is reported by 1 in 6 adults.
  • Binge drinking is more common among males than females (males consume 4 out of 5 binge drinks).
  • Binge drinking occurs more often with people who have household incomes of $75,000 or more and higher educational levels.
  • In 2010, binge drinking was responsible for 77% ($191 billion) of the $249 billion in total costs for loss in workplace productivity, health care expenditures, criminal justice costs, and other expenses related to the over-consumption of alcohol.
  • Repeated binge drinking episodes during adolescence can negatively impact brain development and cause limitations in social, attention, memory, and cognitive functioning.

How to Stop Binge Drinking

There are various options for those who wish to stop binge drinking as part of an alcohol use disorder. Treatment for binge drinking can vary greatly given different providers and patient needs. Talking with a doctor, mental health professional, or other addiction treatment provider may be a helpful first step in seeking treatment for an alcohol use disorder involving binge drinking.

Treatment options for alcohol use disorder include:16

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