Binge drinking has been popularized and even mythologized as part of the youth culture today.  Movies and television portray young adults as a rowdy crew who regularly drink and party, with few ill effects, then wake up the next day to do it all over again.  Often, our society indulges this behavior as part of growing up.  People expect and condone binge drinking on college campuses and sometimes in high school, with parents providing alcohol to their teens in hopes that drinking at home will keep their teens safe.  Some people can party on the weekends and stay clean during the week, but for others, binge drinking is the beginning of a serious struggle with alcohol.  The ramifications of binge drinking bring up larger questions: exactly what is binge drinking?  How can you tell when someone has crossed the line from binge drinking into alcoholism?  And when it becomes a problem, how can you stop binge drinking alcohol?

What Is Binge Drinking?

Just the term “binge” suggests drinking a large volume of alcohol at one time, but groups that deal with alcohol addiction and awareness have more specific definitions.  These guidelines differ for men and women because of the differences in how people of different genders metabolize alcohol.  The Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) states that, for men, binge drinking constitutes drinking five or more drinks on the same occasion in the past 30 days; for women, it is drinking four or more drinks in one sitting in the past 30 days.  Another organization, the National Institute on Alcohol and Alcoholism (NIAA) defines binge drinking in terms of blood alcohol: it is any drinking that puts a person’s blood alcohol content (BAC) over 0.08.  For men, this is about five drinks in a two-hour period, and for women, four drinks in that timespan.  This type of drinking is very common in young adults at fraternity or sorority parties, as well as many other parties on college campuses and beyond.

Is Binge Drinking the Same Thing As Alcoholism?

Alcoholism and binge drinking are not the same thing, but one can lead to the other.  Binge drinking can develop into alcoholism, and alcoholics may binge drink sometimes, but not all the time.  Alcoholism is an addiction, characterized by cravings for alcohol and a compulsion to drink, even when the drinker knows he or she will suffer harmful side effects from it.  Alcoholic’s bodies become physically accustomed to the presence of alcohol, and they may even suffer from symptoms of withdrawal if they stop drinking alcohol.  Binge drinkers are not always alcoholics.  Many people can binge drink but keep that drinking confined to specific circumstances, and will not crave alcohol or suffer from withdrawal when they are not drinking.  That being said, binge drinking can pose certain health risks and puts the individual at a higher risk of becoming an alcoholic: adolescents who binge drink are three times more likely to develop an alcohol abuse disorder as adults.

How Can You Tell If Binge Drinking Is A Problem for You?

If you are concerned about binge drinking for you or someone you care about, you may want to look for signs that binge drinking has become a problem.  Signs that binge drinking has crossed the line from social drinking to a problem include:

  • Drinking more than intended
  • Feeling unable to stop drinking
  • Blacking out
  • Memory gaps while drinking
  • Engaging in violent or risky behavior while drinking
What Are Some Negative Effects of Binge Drinking?

Even though binge drinkers usually confine their behavior to certain times, like only at parties or only on the weekends, the large volume of alcohol consumed and the behaviors people engage in while drunk can have serious negative consequences.  Effects that stem directly from drinking alcohol include:

  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Pancreatitis
  • Liver disease
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Hypertension
  • Gastritis
  • Neurological damage
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome (for unborn children)

Other effects do not come from alcohol consumption but from choices made while under the influence, when judgment is impaired, such as

  • Having unprotected sex
  • Unintended pregnancies
  • Contracting sexually transmitted disease
  • Driving while intoxicated 
  • Legal problems, such as arrest for driving while intoxicated
  • Being involved in a sexual assault, as the victim or as the perpetrator
  • Being involved in physical violence, as the victim or as the perpetrator
How To Stop Binge Drinking Alcohol

If you are concerned about your binge drinking, that is probably a sign that you need to change your behavior.  It may be a challenge to stop binge drinking, but it can be done.  Here are some strategies to implement your plan:

  • Tell your family and friends that you have a problem and want to change.   By enlisting their support, you will be more likely to follow through on your plan.  People who love you want to help you stop binge drinking.
  • Change your routine.  If you are in the habit of partying on the weekends, come up with alternative ways to socialize, even if it means cutting ties with your drinking buddies.  If you always drink at the same bar or restaurant, you may need to stop going there in order to avoid temptation.
  • Set limits or consider abstinence from alcohol.  If needed, join a support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
  • Look for new ways to cope with stress.  Many people use binge drinking as a way to let off steam after a long week of work or school, but there are other, healthier ways to decompress.  Studies have shown that exercise reduces stress and anxiety–consider taking up an activity such as walking or yoga.
  • Consider alcohol rehab.  If you cannot stop drinking on your own, there are many outpatient and inpatient treatment programs available to help you stop binge drinking.  Trained professionals can offer support and guidance to assist you during this transition.

If you or someone you love struggles with binge drinking, help is available.  Call our toll-free number today to locate that treatment approach that is right for you.