Many people don’t realize that binge drinking one of the most common patterns of alcohol use in the United States. In fact over 50% of all the alcohol consumed by people is served during binge drinking. But what is it, exactly? Binge drinking is defined as consuming alcohol in a pattern that produces a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or above. This amounts to a man having roughly five drinks or a woman having four drinks in approximately a two-hour span.

When you think of binge drinking, young adults, particularly college students, may spring to mind. But older people, in particular adults 65 or older, binge drink as well. One in six adults in the U.S. binge drinks at least four times a month. Men are also twice as likely to engage in the behavior. A person who drinks excessively in their youth is also at high risk of continuing the behavior into adulthood and developing an alcohol use disorder.

Why do people binge drink? Sometimes it’s because of social pressure, or because they want to feel less anxious or awkward in a social setting. Young people may feel pressured to binge drinking at seasonal events, such as prom or a sporting event. But people also binge drink alone, because they want to hide the behavior from loved ones. A pattern of binge drinking over a period of time can leave permanent damage on parts of the brain that impact how you experience pleasure and practice self-control. These changes make it harder to say no to alcohol, which a person continues to use to temporarily relieve themselves of feelings of sadness, anxiety, fear, anger, or guilt.

There are also significant short-term and long-term effects to binge drinking. In the short term, a person may experience nausea, vomiting, hangover, and memory loss. They can also incur personal injury or are at risk for alcohol poisoning, which can lead to death. The long-term effects of binge drinking can include hypertension, heart problems, long-term memory damage, depression, brain or liver damage, and cancer. Binge drinking can also lead to problems including unemployment, domestic violence, sexually transmitted diseases, unplanned pregnancy, and car accidents.

Another indicator of binge drinking can be frequent blackouts. When you drink excessively, you impair your brain’s ability to keep short-term information in your memory. A blackout has happened when a person cannot remember what happened or what they said when they were drinking. You might experience a partial blackout or a total one. Continual black outs can also impact your memory later in life, especially if you start drinking when your brain is still developing.

If you’re not sure whether you have a binge-drinking problem, here are some questions you can ask yourself.

  • Do you ever have more than four drinks in a day?
  • Do you ever forget what happened while you were drinking?
  • Do you feel guilty or ashamed when you drink too much?
  • Do you think that you need to reduce your drinking?
  • Do you feel surprised when you drank more than you planned?
  • Do other people comment on how much you drink?
  • Do you forsake other responsibilities to make time to drink?

 

What Can You Do Today?

If you’re not sure where to begin with reducing and eliminating binge-drinking behavior, you can start by being honest with yourself. Write down how much you drink and what you think the short-term and long-term consequences of the behavior. Also pay attention to the places and people that trigger you to drink alcohol. Replace alcohol at home with other beverages, and avoid situations where you might feel the pressure to drink. If you are drinking, make sure to spread out your consumption. Drink a glass of water in between drinks, or make an agreement with a friend to hold each other accountable.

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your primary care physician, your employee assistance provider, or a counselor can get you started moving in the right direction. It might prove difficult to reduce your drinking at first, but you’ll sleep better, avoid hangovers, reduce stress, and improve your overall health. In short, you’ll live a life that doesn’t need binge drinking to feel full and exciting.

Last Updated: Nov 28, 2016