The Dangers of Binge Drinking
Many people in the United States currently drink alcohol and a 2019 survey showed that nearly half of all Americans over the age of 12 engaged in binge drinking within the last month.1 According to this survey, 65.8 million Americans engaged in binge drinking within the last month, and 16 million of these people (nearly 25%) also drank heavily within the last month.1
Within the state of Nevada, 2018 and 2019 survey results were averaged to show that percentages of people aged 12 or older who engaged in binge drinking were slightly higher than the national average.2 (p24) Among Nevadans aged 12 or older, 24.84 percent engaged in binge drinking in the last month and the age group with the highest average was 18- to 25-year-olds, at 32.45%.2
In the state of Nevada, a survey that averaged the percentages of people with an alcohol use disorder in 2018 and 2019 showed slightly higher rates than the national average.2 Among Nevada residents aged 12 or older, 6.04% had an alcohol use disorder in the last year, with the highest average (10.31%) among people between the ages of 18 and 25.2
This article will explain:
- What is the definition of binge drinking?
- Why do people binge drink?
- The risks of binge drinking.
- How to stop binge drinking.
- How to get help for a binge drinking problem.
What is Binge Drinking?
Most people have heard of the term binge drinking, but may not be aware of exactly what it means. Binge drinking involves consuming a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time, resulting in a blood alcohol level of 0.08% or higher.3,4,5 You may be wondering, “How many drinks is binge drinking, though?” The amount varies by gender and body size due to the different effects of how alcohol is processed in the body.3,4,5
In general, men who consume 5 or more standard drinks—12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor6,2—within a 2-hour period on at least one occasion within the last month are considered binge drinkers. Applying the same criteria, women who consume 4 or more standard drinks are identified as binge drinkers. Binge drinking among young people is defined as 3 drinks for girls and 3 to 5 drinks for boys.3,4,5
Why is Binge Drinking Dangerous?
Binge drinking is a behavior that has the potential to be extremely dangerous.3,5 Short-term and long-term effects on your physical health may include the following:3 (binge drinking has serious risks), 5,7
- Greater risk of developing certain types of cancer that affect the digestive system, liver, and breast.
- Hurting yourself during falls due to poor balance or coordination while intoxicated.
- Increased likelihood of blacking out while intoxicated.
- Increased risk of alcohol poisoning, which can result in permanent brain damage or even death if not treated promptly.
- Increased risk of chronic health conditions affecting the cardiovascular system, such as high blood pressure, heart problems, liver conditions, and stroke.
- Potential risk of inflammation of the brain, pancreas (pancreatitis), or stomach (gastritis).
- Reduced functioning of your immune system, making you more susceptible to illnesses—even after just one episode of binge drinking.
In addition to the physical risks, people who binge drink are more likely to develop a psychological dependence on alcohol.3,4 This is an incurable disease that can affect many different areas of a person’s life, making them unable to function in day-to-day activities.8 Frequent episodes of binge drinking increase the likelihood of developing an alcohol use disorder, among other consequences.5
Binge Drinking & Mental Health
Binge drinking can affect your mental health as well.3 It can impair your memory and affect your ability to learn new information.3 Over time, binge drinking can put you at greater risk for developing dementia.3 Binge drinking is linked with an increased risk for depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder,3, 8, 9 with lasting effects that can put people at greater risk of suicide.7,9
Alcohol functions for some as a coping skill to manage symptoms of new or existing mental health issues.9 It can also exacerbate mental health symptoms, making it more difficult to avoid harmful habits such as binge drinking.9
However, avoiding alcohol for a few days or weeks may be enough to resolve some mental health symptoms caused by alcohol intoxication,.9
Social Consequences of Binge Drinking
Binge drinking can affect more than your physical and mental health. It can have consequences in all areas of your life by causing you to do things you wouldn’t normally do. Some of the potential effects on your day-to-day life include:3,7,8
- Increasing aggression, which may lead to fighting or domestic violence. These issues can lead to legal problems.
- Issues with memory and information processing. Hangovers can interfere with your performance at school, potentially leading to poor grades and attendance, or at work, jeopardizing your ability to keep your job.
- Drinking can create problems in your relationships. Since alcohol impairs judgment, things you say or do while under the influence may be upsetting or offensive to friends or family members. Avoiding friends and loved ones can also create tension. Additionally, becoming belligerent or aggressive while intoxicated can push family members or friends away.
Alcohol impairs judgment and self-control.7 People under the influence, especially those who consume large amounts, are more likely to take dangerous risks. Drinking and driving can result in car crashes and legal problems.3, 5, 7 Risky sexual behavior, such as unprotected sex, can lead to pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.3, 5 , 7 Even one episode of binge drinking while pregnant can lead to problems with the baby, including fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and miscarriage.3
Who is More Likely to Binge Drink?
A 2019 survey of Americans revealed the following patterns:1,3,5
- 9% of Americans (1.2 million) between the ages of 12 and 17 engaged in binge drinking in the last month. The highest rates of teenage binge drinking occur in young people in the 12th grade. The majority of underage alcohol consumption involves binge drinking.
- 3% of Americans (11.6 million) between the ages of 18 and 25 engaged in binge drinking in the last month.
- 5% of Americans (53.1 million) 26 years of age or older engaged in binge drinking in the last month.
Nearly 20% of American adults engage in binge drinking once a week on average, consuming around 7 drinks each time.3 Men are twice as likely to binge drink as women and they generally consume more than women.3 Binge drinking is also more likely to occur in people with high levels of education and annual incomes above $75,000. However, people with lower annual incomes and levels of education tend to drink more per episode of binge drinking.3
Binge Drinking in College Students
Self-reported rates of binge drinking in the last 2 weeks are higher in college students (28%) compared with people of the same age who aren’t in college (25%).5, 7 Various factors may contribute to the increased likelihood of binge drinking in college students. Being away from parents can offer a sense of freedom and lead to poor decision-making.7 Some college settings, such as sports programs and fraternities or sororities, can also promote drinking.7
College students who binge drink are at greater risk for developing ongoing problems with alcohol.7 Since the human brain doesn’t completely develop until around age 25, binge drinking while in college can lead to alcohol problems later in life.7 Additionally, alcohol on campus plays a role in nearly 100,000 reports of sexual assault or rape and almost 700,000 assaults among college students aged 18 to 24.7
Binge Drinking vs. Alcoholism
Although the symptoms of binge drinking and signs of alcoholism overlap, they are different.3 Binge drinking can be an indicator of problematic drinking and can raise the risk for alcoholism.7 Whereas binge drinking involves heavy drinking in a short period of time at least once a month, the symptoms of alcoholism are more complicated. Alcoholism involves at least 2 of the following:7 , 8
- Difficulty controlling your intake once you’ve started drinking.
- Drinking even after it has caused or worsened physical illness, mental health problems, or issues in relationships with others.
- Engaging in risky behaviors while drinking.
- Experiencing strong cravings to drink.
- Having trouble fulfilling responsibilities at home, school, or work as a result of drinking.
- Inability to stop drinking even if you want to.
- Quitting activities because of drinking.
- Spending a lot of time drinking or being hungover.
- Developing a tolerance to the effects of alcohol.
- Experiencing withdrawal when alcohol use is stopped abruptly.
Getting Help for Binge Drinking
American Addiction Centers (AAC) is one of the leading providers of alcohol abuse treatment in the country. With facilities located throughout the U.S., including Las Vegas, we make it easy to access alcohol abuse treatment no matter where you are.10 , 11 Your recovery plan will be customized to meet your particular needs.10, 11. You can call our free and confidential helpline 24/7 at 702-800-2682 to learn more about how we can help you stop binge drinking.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2020). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Rockville, MD: Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2020). 2018-2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Model-based prevalence estimates (50 states and the District of Columbia).
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Binge drinking.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Drinking levels defined.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2020). Binge drinking.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. What is a standard drink?
- University of Rochester Medical Center. (2021). College students and the dangers of binge drinking.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- Shivani, R., Goldsmith, R.J., Anthenelli, R.M. (2002). Alcoholism and psychiatric disorders: Diagnostic challenges. Alcohol Research & Health, 26(2), 90-98.
- American Addiction Centers. (2021). American Addiction Centers.
- American Addiction Centers. (2021). Desert Hope Las Vegas treatment center.
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