Kegs by the pool, a case of beer at the beach, packing lots of liquor for camping trips, or continuous refills on beer in plastic cups at the baseball game may be what you – and everyone around you – do during your downtime in the summer.
For many people who have incorporated alcohol into their lives, the consequences of this choice may not be readily apparent. That is, problems with relationships may be blamed on the other person rather than things said or done under the influence. Issues at work may be blamed on coworkers or the boss rather than missing too many days due to hangovers. Financial problems may be blamed on another partner or not having enough money when too much is being spent on alcohol and activities under the influence.
How do you know when your use of alcohol – “normal” or not – is causing serious issues in your life – problems that may require treatment?
How Much Is Too Much?
Binge drinking is defined as any amount of drinking that brings your blood alcohol content level up above .08 percent. On average, this is accomplished with four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men in a two-hour period, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Heavy drinking is when binge drinking occurs five or more times in a month.
Because binge drinking doesn’t happen daily, and most people are able to maintain some level of functionality at work and with family and friends, many don’t see it as a problem. How do you know if it’s a problem for you? Here are just a few of the signs:
- Your binge drinking happens with regularity. Even if you don’t drink every night, if you are drinking every Friday night, every weekend night, or while doing a particular activity that you engage in regularly, you are putting yourself at risk. This includes not only the social and emotional issues that come with binge drinking regularly but the health risks as well, including higher blood pressure, increased risk of certain cancers, and decreased immunity.
- You take a lot of emotionally and/or physically unsafe risks. While it is well-known that heavy alcohol intake – in some cases, even having a drink or two – can decrease inhibitions, for those who have a problem, that may extend far beyond just having an easier time talking to a stranger or feeling more comfortable dancing in front of people. It can mean having unsafe sex with strangers, driving while intoxicated, or otherwise attempting dangerous stunts that you probably wouldn’t if sober.
- You can’t moderate. If you continually tell yourself that you are only going to have “just one” and call it a night, and you end up binge drinking every time, then this in itself is a sign of a problem. If you are genuinely making a concerted effort to keep things under control and find that you can’t, it is time to get help.
- Blacking out is not uncommon. If you drink so much that you cannot remember what happened while you were under the influence, it could contribute to some of the risky behaviors mentioned above as well as indicate that you should consider whether or not continuing to drink is the right choice for you.
- Those closest to you are telling you that you are drinking too much. If your closest friends and family members are expressing concern about how much or how often you are drinking, it is a clear indication that treatment may be the best choice.
Binge drinking brings with it a litany of risks
. No area of your life is immune from its effects. Socially, you can lose those who are closest to you when you become “uninhibited” in word and action while drunk. Financially, you can lose it all when you make mistakes at work, miss too many days due to hangovers, or make mistakes while under the influence that impact your ability to work.
According to NIAAA, your health is deeply impacted on all levels as well. Effects on the body include:
- Changes in the brain that impact mood and personality
- Heart problems, such as stroke, high blood pressure, arrhythmias, and more
- Liver inflammation
- Pancreatic toxicity
- An increased risk of mouth, throat, breast, liver, and esophageal cancers
- Accident due to injury, including drunk driving
Some of these risks, both social and physical, can occur with a single heavy drinking session while others build over time with regular drinking.
The ‘Dry’ Test
If you determine that your use of alcohol has reached a crisis point, one way to determine whether or not treatment is necessary is to undergo the “dry” test. Give yourself the task of staying sober for the next month – not a single drink or drug of any kind – and then try to limit your use of alcohol to no more than one standard drink in a 24-hour period for the next two months. Check in with yourself at the end of that time. Did you stick with it? How do you feel? Are you able to sustain those habits? If not, it is time to consider treatment.
Are you ready to connect with treatment services and begin the process of putting the harmful effects of binge drinking and heavy drinking behind you?