Binge drinking refers to the consumption of a significant amount of alcohol in a single setting.
The amount of alcohol one consumes in order to qualify as a binge drinking episode is considered to be significantly more than one would normally consume in a similar timeframe. The formal criteria to objectively measure binge drinking episodes as put forth by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) are:
The notion of a single timeframe or single occasion using the above definitions is typically considered to be having these drinks within a few hours of each other. There is no formal binge drinking disorder identified by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in the same way that binge eating disorder is classified as a mental health disorder. At the current time, binge drinking simply refers to a specific behavior that can be a risk factor for the development of issues with alcohol use.
Heavy alcohol users are considered to be individuals who binge drink five or more times during a month.
The bigger issue occurs with individuals who habitually engage in binge drinking behavior. Any individual who engages in regular binge drinking will most likely fall into the heavy drinking category. Heavy drinkers are at a significantly higher risk to develop an alcohol use disorder than individuals who drink occasionally. While binge drinking is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for an individual to receive a diagnosis of an alcohol use disorder, habitual binge drinkers are far more likely to have an alcohol use disorder diagnosis than individuals who do not engage in binge drinking. However, there is no specified amount of alcohol consumption that is formally deemed as being necessary to be diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder. Instead, the development of an alcohol use disorder is related to the effects of one’s alcohol use on their life, how their alcohol use affects their ability to function normally, and their ability to control their use of alcohol.
Both NIAAA and SAMHSA report that low-risk drinking behavior for men consists of 14 or fewer alcoholic drinks per week (and no more than four drinks on a single occasion), whereas low-risk drinking for women is identified as no more than three drinks on a single occasion and a total of seven or fewer alcoholic drinks per week. The data indicates that a very small percentage of individuals who drink at these levels or lower actually get diagnosed with alcohol use disorders (less than 2 percent) whereas over one-quarter of individuals who drink alcohol at rates beyond these levels are diagnosed with alcohol use disorders. Thus, repeated binge drinking is a risk for the development of issues with alcohol abuse and even a formal alcohol use disorder diagnosis.
Binge drinking behaviors typically begin in late adolescence or early adulthood (often in college). Those who continue to binge drink are more likely to become heavy drinkers and to develop issues with alcohol abuse or alcohol use disorders.
Alcohol use is associated with numerous physical and emotional issues. The negative ramifications associated with alcohol use are related to the amount of alcohol that a person uses, not to the type of alcohol consumed. Thus, binge drinking on substances like wine or beer results in an increased potential for negative effects compared to the occasional use of liquor.
Because of powerful central nervous system stimulant effects and interaction with other substances, people who repeatedly binge drink are at an increased risk for:
Individuals who recognize that they have a problem relatively early are better prepared to address their issues. As it turns out, a good percentage of individuals who binge drink begin as teenagers or young adults.
For some individuals who do not address the problem, these behaviors may continue into adulthood. Individuals who have a history of binge drinking early are at a significantly increased risk to develop severe alcohol use disorders that can lead to permanent physical, emotional, and social ramifications.
Individuals who develop issues with problematic use of drugs and alcohol require professional assistance and support. There is no shame in asking for assistance, and seeking help from others should not be viewed as a sign of weakness; instead, it should be viewed as a sign of strength that one is willing to accept their limitations and attempt to resolve their issues.