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ALCOHOL BINGE DRINKING

When an individual engages in binge drinking, they consume a large amount of alcohol in a short time. Binge drinking, particularly when it becomes a chronic pattern over time, can lead to significant health problems, such as addiction, mental health issues, medical problems, overdose, failure to meet work and family obligations and criminal behavior. The quintessential form of alcohol and drug binging occurs at colleges and during the teen years at parties. Think of spring break in Florida. This has led to colleges and the government working towards improving alcohol and drug education of young American’s on the dangers of binge drinking and to the implementation of increased penalties for those who engage in binge drinking-related behavior.

A Definition of Binge Drinking

Definitions of what constitutes binge drinking differ slightly among different sources but are in fact quite similar. The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines binge drinking as 5 or more alcoholic drinks for men (or 4 or more for women) on the same occasion on at least one day in the past 30 days. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that produces blood alcohol concentrations (BAC of great than 0.08 g/dL. This can occur in women after 4 drink or men after 5 drinks in a 2-hour period. [1]

photo of young man holding a drink with his head resting on the bar

Binge Drinking Can be Extremely Dangerous

Surprisingly, those who engage in binge drinking can suffer from greater consequences than those who habitually use alcohol at a near-constant level. This is because binge drinking often leads to a dramatically increased risk of the binger engaging in risky behaviors, such as driving under the influence, unprotected sexual intercourse, assaults and behaviors that lead to accidental injuries. Further, the high blood levels of the drug or alcohol can lead to significant medical problems like overdose, liver toxicity and kidney problems.

Consequences of Binge Drinking

  • Accidents
  • Violence
  • Alcohol-related cancers
  • Alcohol-related diseases such as liver disease, heart disease, and neuropathy
  • Alcohol dependence
  • Problems with memory
  • Decreased learning ability
  • Sexual acting-out causing unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases
  • Placing oneself in sexual situations that they would not normally take part in

Young People and Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is often more dangerous in the younger population because the human brain has not reached full maturity until around the age of 25. The lack of neurologic maturation is especially true for the prefrontal cortex, which is the area that allows one to inhibit impulses and is also involved in planning and organizing behaviors. Because of this fact, excessive alcohol consumption at a youthful age can prevent the normal maturation of the brain, and lead to lifelong consequences in the development of speech, impulse control, and organized behavior. In addition, the highest activity of the brain’s reward system (dopamine), which is involved in pleasure seeking, peaks around age 18 and then gradually declines to the adult level at around 25 years old. This is one reason more risk-taking behavior is exhibited by those in the 18 – 25-year-old age group. Whether it is through binge drinking-related damage to brain development or the consequences of risky behaviors, young people are particular at-risk from (and prone to engage in) binge drinking.

From Binge Drinking to Addiction

Alcohol binges can last for a day, or a few days to a few weeks. After a period of use, the user eventually stops the binge due to unrelenting obligations, running out of a supply of alcohol or the funds to purchase more, or because they cannot physically continue the use. It is important to note that binge drinking can also easily progress into daily use and a full-blown alcohol addiction.

The first signs of a binge-type addiction may be legal consequences, or the failure to meet expected family and social obligations. Because binge use, especially that of alcohol, is socially acceptable in many cultures, it is not commonly viewed as a problem. However, there is a strong association with repeated binge drinking behavior and the development of an addiction. Furthermore, repeated binge behavior that leads to impaired control, social impairment and risky use meets the definition of a substance use disorder. In other words, the person is suffering from an addiction.

The Next Binge Could be the Last

If you or a loved one is suffering from a binge-type alcohol addiction, it is important to keep note of the patterns of use, the amount used and the consequences. The pattern of use is significant because this information can be used to identify triggers. Sometimes those with a binge-type alcohol addiction will cease the use of the substance, only to restart the behavior later. In doing so, the amount and frequency of use can be the same as it was before the period of abstinence, but their body may have much less of a tolerance to the effects of alcohol. This poses great health risks, especially the risk of overdose – in this case: acute alcohol poisoning. This is the sort of mistake that can easily prove fatal.

Treatment for Binge Drinking

If one takes part in binge drinking on a few occasions and “learns his/her lesson”, treatment is unlikely to be necessary. However, when binge-type alcoholism becomes a routine, there are those that will need to seek treatment to prevent the progression to full-blown alcoholism. Even if alcohol dependence is not a concern, alcohol treatment can help those who regularly binge drink to curb their drinking to prevent the grave consequences that can be created from this practice.

The treatment for binge-type alcohol abuse is not unlike that of alcohol dependence. But the focus will be on how to replace alcohol binges as a form of relaxation and fun, with other healthier activities. One important difference between binge drinking and continuous alcoholism is that the consequences from binge drinking are somewhat different from those with chronic alcoholism. Because of this fact, many of those who binge drink just believe they got out of control a few times and it won’t happen again. But the reality is, many repeat binge drinking behavior and end up with similar or even worse consequences.

photo of a young woman standing on a mountain top with her arms outstretched triumphantly

Binge Drinking and Denial

The treatment of binge-type alcoholism can be difficult because the binge drinker feels “normal” between binges. First, they may not recognize this pattern of behavior as a problem, viewing it as, “I just like to party,” or, “It’s just weekend fun.” Secondly, because they are likely to engage in drinking binges with friends, this may normalize the behavior for the binge drinker.

There are those who may, for example, be arrested for driving under the influence after a binge, and rather than see the alcohol binge as the problem, they view driving while intoxicated as the problem. So, rather than seeking treatment for binge drinking, the alcohol abuser may choose to not drive, but continue with their binge drinking. Because this type of denial is so common among binge drinkers, it can be difficult to get them to admit that they may have a problem that needs to be addressed. Conquering this denial, however, is the first step toward recovering from the negative consequences that binge drinking invariably generates over time.

Don’t Let Binge Drinking Destroy You

Binge drinking is not a joke; it can have deadly consequences. If you or a loved one has a binge drinking problem, BWR can help! Call one of our operators at 800-683-4457, 24-7, to gain freedom from the dangerous cycle of binge drinking and alcohol abuse. Don’t let binge drinking destroy the happy and healthy life you want for yourself and those you love.

Sources:

[1] The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/moderate-binge-drinking
[2] 
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/binge-drinking.htm

 

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